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Family First New Zealand and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-065

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Family First New Zealand
Number
2011-065
Programme
Sunday
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sunday – item investigated the “purity movement” in the United States – after the item the presenter stated, “Well as you’ve heard earlier, the attrition rate is a big one. Lots of girls grow up and question the commitment they’ve made. It is believed that more than 80 percent break their purity vows” – statement allegedly inaccurate

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – presenter’s statement distinguishable as commentary on what was said in the item – exempt from accuracy under guideline 5a – not upheld by majority

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]  During Sunday, broadcast on TV One at 7.30pm on 3 April 2011, an Australian Channel 7 story, entitled “Thrill of the Chaste”, investigated the “purity movement” in the United States. The Sunday presenter introduced the item as follows:

The pressure is on, the pressure for teenage girls to have sex. It screams at them from movies, magazines, TV and online, and often there is nothing parents can do. But now, more and more American families are determined their daughters will remain untouched, pure until marriage. So pure they are even saving their first romantic kiss for the wedding. It is an attitude and commitment which has spawned something called the “purity ball”, which has become a big business.

[2]  An Australian Channel 7 reporter interviewed a number of supporters of the movement, including a 21-year-old girl who had never kissed a boy and was “saving herself” until her wedding day. The reporter stated, “But for most, that first kiss comes much sooner. Often just saying no, just doesn’t work. While abstinence may be an appealing concept to concerned parents, 82 percent of kids who pledge to remain pure will break their vow.” 

[3]  After the item, the Sunday presenter stated, “Well as you’ve heard earlier, the attrition rate is a big one. Lots of girls grow up and question the commitment they’ve made. It is believed that more than 80 percent break their purity vows.”

Complaint

[4]  Family First New Zealand made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached Standard 5 (accuracy).

[5]  The complainant referred to the presenter’s statement that the failure rate for purity pledges was more than 80 percent. It asserted that the figure had no basis and was simply “plucked out of thin air” in an attempt to “belittle the nature of documentary”. It considered that TVNZ was either “deliberately misleading viewers, hadn’t done its homework, or is simply making things up”. 

Standards

[6]  TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Guideline 5a is also relevant. These provide:

Standard 5 Accuracy

Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:

  • is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or
  • does not mislead.

Guideline 5a

The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[7]  TVNZ did not consider that the presenter’s comment constituted a material error of fact. It noted that the 80 percent figure referred to by the complainant was used by the presenter in the “back announce to the body of the story”, and that during the story itself, the Channel 7 reporter stated, “While abstinence may be an appealing concept for concerned parents, 82 percent of kids who pledge to remain pure will break their vow.”

[8]  The broadcaster said that, in any event, there was documented evidence to support the figure of 80 percent, though it was presented without supporting evidence in the programme. TVNZ referred to the “National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health”, which examined the sex lives of 12,000 adolescents aged 12 to 18 years. This was a follow-up to a study presented in March 2010 to the National STD Prevention Conference in Philadelphia, it said. The broadcaster stated:

The study also revealed that of the pledgers who have had sex, the vast majority, 88 percent, significantly higher than broadcast by Sunday, had done so before marriage. 

[9]  Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.

Referral to the Authority

[10]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Family First referred its complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[11]  The complainant argued that the broadcaster incorrectly asserted that the study referred to was a follow-up to a study presented in “March of last year” suggesting that it was published in 2010 or 2011. In fact, it argued, the study was published in 2005. Further, it said that TVNZ failed to acknowledge that the study contained the following information:

  • 61 percent of all pledgers, 90 percent of all nonpledgers and 79 percent of all inconsistent pledgers have sex before marriage or interview date.
  • Pledgers experience sex later than others across adolescence and a significant minority holds out far into young adulthood. By age 25, it is estimated that 25 percent of consistent male pledgers are still virgins, compared with 7 percent of nonpledgers and 15 percent of inconsistent pledgers. For females, the corresponding numbers are 21 percent for consistent pledgers, 6 percent for nonpledgers and 10 percent for inconsistent pledgers.

[12]  Family First maintained that the presenter’s statement was inaccurate because it suggested that 80 percent of all pledgers had sex before marriage, when in fact the study actually stated:

If we consider just those respondents who have had sex, 88 percent of the pledgers have sex before they get married.

[13]  The complainant noted research which showed an association between pledging and delayed sexual activity. For example, it referred to an article in the “Journal of the American Medical Association”, which showed that “‘abstinence pledge’ programmes were dramatically effective in reducing sexual activity among teenagers in grades 7 through to 12”. The complainant also cited research which showed that virginity pledging was associated with STD reduction.

[14]  Family First maintained that the presenter’s final comment appeared to be a “cynical attempt to belittle the subject matter”. While it acknowledged that this was a highly “technical” and “contentious” area subject to much debate and conflicting research, it considered that the presenter should have noted that research was not unanimous on the issue. The complainant reiterated its view that Standard 5 had been breached.

Authority’s Determination

[15]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[16]  Standard 5 states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.

[17]  Family First argued that the Sunday presenter’s statement that the failure rate for purity pledges was more than 80 percent was inaccurate. We note that it did not complain about the statement made by the Channel 7 reporter during the story, “While abstinence may be an appealing concept to concerned parents, 82 percent of kids who pledge to remain pure will break their vow.”

[18]  In the majority’s view (Peter Radich, exercising his casting vote as Chair, and Te Raumawhitu Kupenga), while the success (or failure) rate of purity pledges was material to the item, as it would have affected viewers’ understanding and perception of the purity movement, we the majority do not consider that the presenter’s statement was an assertion of fact. Rather, she was clearly commenting on what was said by the reporter in the item. We note that the presenter’s remark was preceded by the words, “Well, as you’ve heard earlier”, and, “It is believed”, which indicated that she was summarising the information contained in the report, and not making an unqualified statement of fact. Statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion are exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a to Standard 5.

[19]  Accordingly, the majority declines to uphold the complaint.

[20]  Having considered the information provided, a minority of the Authority (Leigh Pearson and Mary Anne Shanahan) is satisfied that the research findings relied on by the parties, which referred to “of the pledgers who have had sex,” and “just those respondents who have had sex”, are inconsistent with what was reported in the item and by the presenter. The presenter did not make it clear that the 80 percent figure related only to pledgers who had reported having sex. Rather, her statement suggested that more than 80 percent of all pledgers broke their pledge. We are satisfied that this was not an accurate reflection of the results of the research, which stated that, “If we consider just those respondents who have had sex, 88 percent of the pledgers have sex before they get married.”

[21]  While we acknowledge that the presenter’s comment was preceded by the words, “Well, as you’ve heard earlier”, and, “It is believed”, which indicated that she was relying on the Channel 7 reporter’s statement, we consider that, as the statistic was emphasised in the presenter’s concluding remarks, viewers were likely to be left with a lasting impression that pledges on the whole were ineffective.

[22]  In the minority’s view, TVNZ should not have relied solely on information broadcast by another media outlet, particularly when it was reporting specific statistics which would have significantly affected viewers’ perceptions of the matter discussed in the item. The broadcaster referred us to research which it considered supported the presenter’s statement. However, as noted above at paragraph [20], the broadcaster misinterpreted the research, and consequently misled viewers about the success rate of purity pledges.

[23]  We emphasise the importance of accuracy in news and current affairs programming, and we consider that viewers were entitled to expect that Sunday, as a reputable current affairs programme, would impart reliable and accurate information, to enable them to form their own judgement about the subject matter of the item. In our view, broadcasters need to take care when reporting statistics, especially where they are using these statistics for the sake of emphasis. We consider that statistics are a powerful tool when used in reporting, and have the potential to influence viewers’ perception of the topic. Broadcasters have a responsibility to ensure that all material facts are accurate, and need to take care when relying on facts stated in items not produced by them, even if the source of the item appears to be credible.

[24]  For these reasons, the minority would uphold the complaint that the presenter’s statement breached Standard 5.

 

For the above reasons a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
13 September 2011

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1                  Family First New Zealand Ltd’s formal complaint – 12 April 2011

2                 TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 9 May 2011

3                 Family First NZ’s referral to the Authority – 13 May 2011