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AGCARM and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1997-189

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • J Withers
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • AGCARM
Number
1997-189
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

Rubber Gloves or Green Fingers was broadcast on TV One at 8.00pm on 26 August

1997. It was introduced by presenter Ian Fraser and, at its conclusion, he chaired a

studio discussion about the issues raised in the documentary.

Dr Richardson of AGCARM (who took part in the discussion) complained to the

broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the programme was unbalanced. The

benefits of organic farming, he said, had been expounded by denigrating traditional

farming methods.

When TVNZ failed to respond within 20 working days, Dr Richardson referred the

complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Pointing out in its later report that the "programme" included both the documentary

and the subsequent studio discussion, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Moreover, while the presentation of the benefits of organic farming inevitably

involved reflections on traditional farming, TVNZ said that the documentary recorded

the benefits of agricultural chemicals to farming in New Zealand since World War II.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the programme complained about and

have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). On this occasion, the

Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The documentary Rubber Gloves or Green Fingers was broadcast on TV One at

8.00pm on 26 August as part of the Fraser programme. The film was followed by a

half hour discussion, chaired by presenter Ian Fraser, in which the following took part;

Dr Jack Richardson of AGCARM, Mr Owen Jennings who is an ACT MP, Ms

Jeannette Fitzsimmons who was an Alliance MP and is co-leader of the Greens, and

Mr Tim Hanna, the documentary script writer.

Dr Jack Richardson, Executive Director of AGCARM (New Zealand Association for

Animal Health and Crop Protection) complained to TVNZ that the documentary was

unbalanced. He wrote:

The documentary promotes organic farming, but I believe that it should be

possible to expound the benefits of organic farming without denigrating

traditional farming methods. Presentation in a non-partisan way of the issues

surrounding the decision whether or not to use agrichemicals would allow the

viewer to make a balanced judgement.


In essence, the documentary presents the positives of organic farming and the

negatives of traditional farming, but does not present the other two viewpoints.

A number of false impressions are created, and there is thus an unacceptable lack

of balance in the programme.


When TVNZ failed to respond to the complaint within 20 working days, Dr

Richardson on AGCARM's behalf referred the complaint to the Authority under

s.8(1)(b) of the Act.

TVNZ apologised for failing to respond, advising that it was unable to locate the

original letter of complaint. It assessed the complaint under standard G6 of the

Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which requires broadcasters:

G6   To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political

matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.


TVNZ explained the format of the programme:


In assessing this complaint we point out, as does Dr Richardson, that the filmed

documentary Rubber Gloves or Green Fingers was placed inside a programme

featuring Ian Fraser which also included a studio debate about the issues raised

in the documentary and in which Dr Richardson took part.


We submit that in considering the matter of balance at the heart of this

complaint, the filmed part of this programme cannot be treated in isolation but

must be viewed in the context of the entire programme - that is the film plus the

studio debate. We do not regard the studio debate as a simple "tack on", but as

an integral part of the programme.


It follows from this that we accept that the film took a particular stance. We do

not think that this is necessarily a bad thing and argue strongly that viewpoint or

advocacy journalism has long held an important place in the media.


There was no effort to conceal the stance the programme took. We suggest that

the way the programme was structured, with an introduction from the studio

host, and a full debate afterwards, left viewers in no doubt that the views

expressed in the film were controversial and subject to debate.


Turning to the specific points raised by Dr Richardson, TVNZ said it would be

difficult to highlight the values of organic farming without referring to the problems

associated with agricultural chemicals. Moreover, it noted, the documentary

acknowledged the contribution of agricultural chemicals to New Zealand's success as

an agricultural trading nation in the past 50 years. Sections of the transcript were

cited in support of this contention. TVNZ also argued that efforts were made in the

programme to espouse the positive aspects of the use of agricultural chemicals in

farming. Again, comments from the transcript were cited. In addition, it said, there

had been comment on some of the problems associated with organic farming.

In summary, TVNZ concluded, taking the film and the studio debate together, the item

was impartial. It commented further:

We note that while viewpoint or advocacy programmes are relatively common

abroad, TVNZ went further than most overseas broadcasters by demonstrating

its impartiality through the addition of the studio debate.


In his response to TVNZ's report, Dr Richardson stated that the studio debate was,

in fact, a "tack on" and:

. . .  the damage had been done before the debate, and what was a reasonably

balanced discussion could do nothing to retrieve the situation.


Dr Richardson said that TVNZ's comments accepted that there was a lack of balance

in the film, commenting:

The claim that the lack of balance in the film was addressed in the studio debate

is not correct – the debate was balanced in its own right, but did not address the

imbalance in the film.

Furthermore, Dr Richardson claimed, the quotations cited were out of context, and the

use of them as a defence to the complaint was typical of TVNZ's unbalanced

approach.

In response to Dr Richardson's points, TVNZ argued that the Broadcasting Act

accepted there was a place for advocacy programmes in New Zealand. A contrary

conclusion, it insisted, would contravene the Bill of Rights Act. The studio

discussion, TVNZ repeated, went much further in demonstrating balance than

occurred in most broadcasting jurisdictions overseas.

In his final comment, Dr Richardson repeated his contention that the studio debate

was a "tack on" and, because of the damage caused by the documentary, the

reasonably balanced studio discussion could not rectify the situation.

In view of the degree of advocacy contained in the documentary Rubber Gloves or

Green Fingers, the Authority is a little surprised that the comments made by

presenter, Ian Fraser, before the documentary was screened, did not advise viewers of

its approach. In view of the publicity that this documentary has provoked before the

screening, the Authority believes that a reference to the approach it had adopted

would have helped viewers appreciate the format developed for the programme.

The Authority accepts that the programme complained about included the presenter's

introduction, the documentary, and the studio debate. It also accepts that viewers

were advised that the programme consisted of these aspects.

Given the lack of an appropriate "scene setting" introduction, the Authority is

reluctant to accept entirely the argument that the efforts made within the programme

in total were sufficient to rectify the imbalance inherent in the advocacy documentary.

However, on balance, it concludes that the studio debate, which it accepts as integral

to the broadcast, ensured that the requirements of standard G6 were met.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
18 December 1997

Appendix


AGCARM's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 8 September 1997

Dr Jack Richardson, Executive Director of AGCARM Inc (the New Zealand

Association for Animal Health and Crop Protection) complained to Television New

Zealand Ltd about the broadcast of the documentary Rubber Gloves or Green

Fingers, broadcast on TV One at 8.00pm on 26 August 1997.

Dr Richardson said the programme advanced the case for organic farming by

denigrating traditional farming methods. He maintained that it was unbalanced in

omitting both the negatives of organic farming and the positives of the traditional

methods.

AGCARM's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 29 October

1997

As TVNZ did not respond to the complaint within 20 working days, Dr Richardson

on AGCARM's behalf referred it to the Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting

Act 1989.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 11 November 1997

TVNZ began by apologising to Dr Richardson, through the Authority, as his letter of

complaint had been mislaid.

In dealing with the complaint, TVNZ pointed out that the broadcast of the

documentary had been placed inside a programme featuring presenter Ian Fraser.

Following the broadcast of the documentary, Mr Fraser had chaired a studio

discussion in which Dr Richardson took part.

TVNZ continued:

We submit that in considering the matter of balance at the heart of this

complaint, the filmed part of this programme cannot be treated in isolation but

must be viewed in the context of the entire programme – that is the film plus the

studio debate. We do not regard the studio debate as a simple "tack on", but as

an integral part of the programme.

TVNZ acknowledged that the film took a particular stance, adding that no effort had

been made to conceal that point. It added:

We suggest that the way the programme was structured, with an introduction

from the studio host, and a full debate afterwards, left viewers in no doubt that

the views expressed in the film were controversial and subject to debate.


Focussing first on the complaint that organic farming was promoted by denigrating

traditional methods, TVNZ said it would be very difficult at present to highlight the

benefits of organic farming without referring to the problems associated with the use

of agricultural chemicals. Moreover, the programme acknowledged the contributions

of such chemicals to New Zealand's success as an agricultural trading nation since

World War II.

As for the specific complaint that false impressions were created, TVNZ said that it

would not respond as no examples were given. In response to the complaint about

imbalance, TVNZ stated:

On the broader area of balance, we submit that reasonable efforts were made to

present significant points of view which support what Dr Richardson calls

"the positives" of farming using agricultural chemicals. There are substantial

statements from senior industry and government representatives.

These statements, TVNZ added, acknowledged, and rebutted, the concerns about the

use of agricultural chemicals.

TVNZ repeated the point that the documentary and the studio discussion were

presented as a single programme and, it concluded:

This matter is also relevant when considering the question of impartiality.

TVNZ did not let the film screen without inviting comment from those who

might be considered critical of the viewpoint it was advocating. Dr Richardson

was involved in that studio discussion representing views in support of

agricultural chemicals. He was joined by Mr Owen Jennings (former President

of Federated Farmers and now an Act MP) who is well known as a farming

spokesman who is critical of what he regard as "greenie" policies.


We note that while viewpoint or advocacy programmes are relatively common

abroad, TVNZ went further than most overseas broadcasters by demonstrating

its impartiality through the addition of the studio debate.

AGCARM's Final Comment – 19 November 1997

On AGCARM's behalf, Dr Richardson maintained that contrary to TVNZ's

protestation, the studio debate was just a "tack on". Pointing out that TVNZ accepted

that the programme lacked balance, Dr Richardson wrote:

The claim that the lack of balance in the film was addressed in the studio debate

is not correct – the debate was balanced in its own right, but did not address the

imbalance in the film.