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Hamlett and RadioWorks Ltd - 2011-049

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Stuart Hamlett
Number
2011-049
Broadcaster
RadioWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio Live and The Breeze

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Radio Live News and The Breeze News – news bulletins reported on incident in which a British woman was bitten by a lion cub at Paradise Valley Springs – allegedly inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – statements accurate, or amounted to analysis comment or opinion under guideline 5a – news items not inaccurate or misleading – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant was given a fair opportunity to comment on the incident – complainant and Paradise Valley Springs treated fairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  A number of news bulletins, broadcast on Radio Live News and The Breeze News on the morning of Monday 13 December 2010, reported on an incident in which a British woman was bitten by a lion cub at Paradise Valley Springs in Rotorua.

[2]  The Radio Live News bulletins included the following statements:

  • “A British tourist says she was shocked after being bitten by a large lion cub during a patting session at Rotorua wildlife park.” (6am bulletin)
  • “But the woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Radio Live that she was stunned when the waist-high cub bit her.” (6am)
  • “The woman says she was advised to fill out a report and get some medical treatment on the way out, but the office was closed at the time she left.” (6am)
  • “A British tourist says she was stunned when a six-month-old lion went for her at a Rotorua wildlife park.” (7am)
  • “But one visitor was left grazed and badly bruised on Friday after the waist-high cub lunged at her, biting her on the back.” (7am)
  • “The woman, who does not wish to be named, said she was quite taken aback by the power of the animal.” (7am)
  • “Paradise Valley Springs’ management refused to comment, although they did say they would be speaking to staff. The Department of Labour is making inquiries.” (7am)
  • “Visitors are invited to enter the lion cub enclosure for hands on contact with a big cat at Paradise Valley Springs.” (8am)
  • “But one woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, got more than she bargained for when the waist-high animal went for her, jumping and biting her on the back.” (8am)
  • “She says she thinks the six-month-old cub is too big to be allowed loose with the public.” (8am)
  • “Paradise Valley Springs’ management refused to comment, although they did            say they would be speaking to staff.” (8am)
  • “They may look soft and cuddly but a lion cub’s claws and teeth are sharp.” (11am)

[3]  The news bulletins included audio extracts from an interview with the woman, in which she stated:

  • “Well there was a scratch I’d say two inches where his claw was, and where his teeth were there was only a little bit of blood, but it has bruised very badly. But yeah it did hurt, it did hurt and it shocked me a little bit yeah.” (6am; 11am)
  • “As soon as I went in it just sort of went for me and actually gripped me on my back in its jaws and the lady had to come and take it off me. The lion cub I just think is too big to be with the public really.” (7am)
  • “Yes I was stunned because it did hurt, it really did, and I know he had his teeth clenched on my skin and it felt very powerful against me.” (8am)

[4]  The Breeze News bulletins were similar to those broadcast on Radio Live News, reporting that the woman was left “shaken” and “stunned” when the lion cub “lunged” at her.

Complaint

[5]  Stuart Hamlett, the owner of Paradise Valley Springs, made a formal complaint to RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the news bulletins were inaccurate and unfair. He referred to news bulletins broadcast on Radio Live at 6am and The Breeze at 9am, as well as other news bulletins broadcast on 13 December 2010.

[6]  The complainant acknowledged that the woman referred to in the news bulletins had received a “bite or scratch” at his business premises by the lion cub (Ella), and said that he had personally apologised to her over the telephone. He stated, “Our young cubs can be playful and do bite from time to time”. By way of background, he noted that lion cubs had been patted by the public on and off at Paradise Valley Springs since 1986, and that a sign located at the patting den entry stated “IMPORTANT: Remember these are young lion cubs and you do enter at your own risk”.

[7]  Mr Hamlett argued that the news bulletins contained “half truths, devious untrue statements and basically complete lies in attempting to make what was a relatively minor incident into something more than it was”. As a result, his reputation and income, as well as that of his staff and business had been affected, he said.

[8]  The complainant referred to a number of statements, outlined below, which he considered were inaccurate and unfair.

The lion cub was “waist-high”, a “large cub” and a “big cat”

[9]  In the complainant’s view, descriptions of Ella in the news bulletins as “waist-high”, a “large lion cub” and a “big cat”, were not just exaggerations but amounted to “blatant lie(s)”. He provided the broadcaster with a photo of Ella and said that she was six-months-old, small for her age and “barely knee high”.

A lion cub’s “claws and teeth are sharp”

[10]  Mr Hamlett referred to the news reader’s statement, “They may look soft and cuddly but a lion cub’s claws and teeth are sharp”, which he considered applied to Ella by association. While he acknowledged that this was true with regard to some lion cubs, he asserted that Ella’s front baby teeth and fangs were blunt, and that her claws were kept constantly clipped. 

The cub “went for her” and “lunged at her”

[11]  In the complainant’s view, reports that the lion cub “went for” and “lunged at” the woman, amounted to “emotive journalistic nonsense”. He said that Ella had simply taken an interest in the woman’s clothing, had jumped up to try and grab it, and in doing so had accidently bitten and/or scratched her. 

The woman was “stunned”, “shocked”, shaken” and “taken aback”

[12]  With regard to statements that the woman was “stunned”, “shocked”, “shaken” and “taken aback” by the incident, the complainant questioned why the woman had not expressed this to staff and had remained in the patting den with Ella who was put into the time-out zone. He said that, having left the patting den at approximately 4.35pm, the woman continued to walk around the rest of the park, meaning that from the time of the incident to closing, she had ample opportunity to walk the short distance to reception as advised, but chose not to do so.

“The woman says she was advised to fill out a report and get some medical treatment on the way out, but the office was closed at the time she left”

[13]  Mr Hamlett stated that when the incident occurred one of his park attendants asked to see if the woman was okay and both cub handlers observed her graze. The woman was advised to go to reception for some antiseptic cream and to give her name and details for an incident report but she declined to so, he said. The complainant maintained that the woman had plenty of time to go to reception while it was still open as it was very close to the cub den where she was injured. He noted that one of the cub handlers filled out an incident report soon after it occurred, as was standard practice.

Management “refused to comment”

[14]  The complainant noted that the incident occurred on Friday and that on the following Sunday he received a telephone call from someone at Radio Live seeking his comment on the incident. He informed them that he wanted to speak to the woman and staff members involved before responding, he said. Mr Hamlett stated, although the report that “management refused to comment” may have been technically correct, it was a “dishonest representation of the facts”. He submitted that, “It was hardly breaking news and surely [it] could have saved you some grief if you had waited for my side which I had by midday on that Monday”.

“The Department of Labour is making inquiries”

[15]  Mr Hamlett asserted that the Department of Labour (the Department) had no interest in the matter if medical attention was neither sought nor necessary, and contended that it was Radio Live who had informed the Department about the incident. He questioned whether informing the Department was a “common practice of your company in an attempt to add some form of substance to your ‘stories’”.

[16]  In summary, Mr Hamlett argued that RadioWorks had relied on a “confused” and/or “deliberately untruthful” version of events which it used as the basis for the information contained in the news bulletins. This was done “without having the faintest idea of the other side of the situation, and without giving my company an even remotely decent time-frame to respond which I intended to do so once I was fully informed”, he said.

Standards

[17]  The complainant nominated Standards 5 and 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. 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.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[18]  RadioWorks responded to the complaint about the news bulletins broadcast on Radio Live News. It said that, when considering a breach of the accuracy standard, it first had to establish that the content was a material point of fact, rather than opinion. The broadcaster considered each of the points raised by the complainant.

The lion cub was “waist-high”, a “large cub” and a “big cat”

[19]  The broadcaster contended that the descriptions of the lion cub in the various news broadcasts were “clearly positioned as a report from the woman [who was involved in the incident]”. The journalist who wrote the description stated:

I used the term ‘waist-high’ as a direct description from the lady who was   bitten. She did not specify whether that was on all fours or at full height... her daughter who had seen a photograph of the cub had also communicated to me her surprise at the large size of the cub...

[20]  RadioWorks disagreed that this aspect of the news bulletins was inaccurate “as the cat could reach the woman’s waist when standing on hind legs”. Further, it submitted that most listeners would realise that a waist-high cub on all fours would “amount to a giant lion and is unlikely”.

[21]  For these reasons, the broadcaster declined to uphold this part of the Standard 5 complaint.

A lion cub’s “claws and teeth are sharp”

[22]  Referring to the news reader’s statement in the 11am news bulletin, “They may look soft and cuddly but a lion’s cub’s claws and teeth are sharp”, RadioWorks said that this referred to the fact that the woman had been injured after being bitten by a lion cub. While the broadcaster accepted the complainant’s contention that Ella’s teeth were blunt, it stated, “Clearly the cub’s teeth were sharp enough to cause an injury.” On this basis, it maintained that the statement was accurate, but in any event, it did not consider that it was a material point of fact.

The cub “went for her” and “lunged at her”

[23]  RadioWorks noted that, in his complaint, Mr Hamlett stated that the cub “jumped up” at the woman, which it contended was not at odds with the statement that the cub “went for her” and “lunged at her”, as reported in the news bulletins. Further, it noted that each news report included a soundbite of an interview with the woman and that it was clear from her description of events that the incident was not a serious attack. For example, it noted that the woman said:

Well there was a scratch I’d say two inches long where his claw was, and where his teeth were there was only a little bit of blood, but it has bruised very badly...

[24]  The broadcaster maintained that the statement was accurate and therefore declined to uphold a breach Standard 5 in this respect.

The woman was “stunned”, “shocked”, shaken” and “taken aback”

[25]  RadioWorks referred to the complainant’s contention that the words “stunned”, “shocked”, “shaken” and “taken aback” in the news bulletins were inaccurate descriptions of how the woman had actually reacted to the incident. It said that these words were either used by the woman herself, or attributed to the woman, and therefore amounted to her personal opinion. It declined to uphold this part of the accuracy complaint.

“The woman says she was advised to fill out a report and get some medical treatment on the way out, but the office was closed at the time she left”

[26]  The broadcaster noted that both the 6am and 11am news bulletins reported that the woman was advised to fill out a report and get some medical treatment but that the office was closed when she left the park. It maintained that neither news report insinuated that she was denied medical assistance, and in fact, implied that she was offered assistance, but that because of a time-lapse between the incident and her leaving the park, she did not take up the offer. In addition, it noted that the items referred to a reporting system whereby the incident would have been addressed, and alluded to the lack of serious injuries resulting from the incident.

[27]  RadioWorks concluded that the news bulletins were not inaccurate or misleading in this respect and it declined to uphold this part of the complaint.

[28]  Turning to consider the fairness standard, the broadcaster noted that the incident occurred on Friday and that the complainant was contacted for comment on Sunday. In the broadcaster’s view, it was not unreasonable to expect the complainant to have knowledge of the incident by that time through staff reporting mechanisms.

[29]  With regard to the complainant’s argument that it was misleading to say that the Department was making inquiries when it was Radio Live who contacted the Department, RadioWorks referred to the following statement from the news reporter:

I was also called by the Department of Labour which had been contacted by [the set-up producer], [and] an employee told me they were making inquiries, which is what I reported.

[30]  Overall, the broadcaster argued that the incident was clearly positioned as one woman’s experience at the park and was accurately reported as such, and that the complainant was given an adequate opportunity to comment.

[31]  Accordingly, RadioWorks concluded that Mr Hamlett and Paradise Valley Springs had been treated fairly and it declined to uphold the Standard 6 complaint. 

Referral to the Authority

[32]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Hamlett referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that the news bulletins breached Standards 5 and 6.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[33]  RadioWorks provided the Authority with transcripts of some of the news bulletins broadcast on Radio Live News and The Breeze News. It said that it had only received written transcripts of the news bulletins broadcast on Radio Live and that it could no longer source audio recordings for those broadcasts.

Authority’s Determination

[34]  The members of the Authority have listened to excerpts from an interview with the woman featured in the story (which were included in the Radio Live News bulletins), and have read transcripts of the broadcasts complained about and the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Preliminary Matter

[35]  In his original complaint, Mr Hamlett referred to news bulletins broadcast on Radio Live News at 6am and The Breeze News at 9am, as well as other news bulletins broadcast on 13 December 2010.

[36]  RadioWorks was unable to source audio recordings of the whole Radio Live News broadcasts, and has not provided us with The Breeze News items. However, it provided us with transcripts of the broadcasts (including the Radio Live News 6am bulletin and The Breeze News 9am bulletin).

[37]  As the transcripts provided by RadioWorks include the statements subject to complaint, and the complainant has not disputed the contents of the transcripts, we consider that we have sufficient information to enable us to determine the complaint.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[38]  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.

[39]  Mr Hamlett’s primary concern was that the broadcast attempted to make what was a “relatively minor incident into something more than it was”. He maintained that the following statements were inaccurate:

  •      the lion cub was “waist-high”, a “large cub” and a “big cat”
  •      the cub “went for her” and “lunged at her”
  •      the woman was “stunned”, “shocked”, “shaken” and “taken aback”
  •      a lion cub’s “claws and teeth are sharp”
  •      “The woman says she was advised to fill out a report and get some medical treatment
         on the way out, but the office was closed at the time she left.”
  •      “management refused to comment”
  •      “The Department of Labour is making inquiries.”

[40]  In our view, the first three statements, describing the nature of the incident, were clearly positioned as a report from the woman’s perspective, and as such were distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion as envisaged by guideline 5a to Standard 5. We note that each news bulletin began with variations of the words, “A British tourist says...”, and each included audio extracts of an interview with the woman in which she repeated what was reported in the news items. While we agree that the reported analysis of the incident from the woman’s perspective was somewhat exaggerated, for example by stating that she was bitten by a “big cat”, we do not consider that listeners would have been misled, as it was obvious from the reports that the “big cat” was a “cub” and that the woman’s injuries were relatively minor. For example, we note that the 7am news bulletin broadcast on Radio Live said that the woman was “grazed and badly bruised” after being bitten on the back by a six-month-old lion cub.

[41]  With regard to the news reader’s statement, “A lion cub’s claws and teeth are sharp,” Mr Hamlett acknowledged that this was true with regard to some lion cubs, but asserted that Ella’s front baby teeth and fangs were blunt, and that her claws were kept constantly clipped. In our view, this was a general statement, and not specifically directed at the lion cub involved. We therefore find that it was not inaccurate or misleading in breach of Standard 5.

[42]  The complainant said that the woman was advised to go to reception for antiseptic cream and to give her details for an incident report. He maintained that the woman had plenty of time to go to reception while the park was still open, but instead chose to continue walking around the park. The news reader’s statement, “The woman says she was advised to fill out a report and get some medical treatment on the way out, but the office was closed at the time she left,” was therefore accurate. In any event, the statement was framed as the woman’s version of events and was therefore distinguishable as analysis and opinion as envisaged by guideline 5a to Standard 5.

[43]  In our view, it was not inaccurate or misleading to say that “management refused to comment”, as Mr Hamlett had been contacted by Radio Live two days after the incident occurred, but refused to make a statement before speaking to the woman and staff involved. We note that he conceded that the statement was “technically correct” in this respect (see paragraph [14]).

[44]  The complainant argued that it was inaccurate to say that “the Department of Labour is making inquiries”, because it was Radio Live who had informed the Department of the incident. We consider that, regardless of whether the Department was put on notice by Radio Live, it was not inaccurate to report that it was making inquiries, and we do not consider that it was misleading to omit information about how the Department became aware of the incident.

[45]  For the above reasons, we do not consider that the news reports were inaccurate or misleading in any of the respects alleged by the complainant. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 5 was breached.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[46]  Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

[47]  The complainant argued that the news items had adversely affected his business’ reputation and commercial interests. In his view, the broadcaster had not provided him with an adequate opportunity to respond to the allegations contained in the news items, and dishonestly reported that management had refused to comment.

[48]  As noted above at paragraph [43], Radio Live contacted Mr Hamlett two days after the incident had occurred and sought his response for inclusion in the news items. However, the complainant refused to comment as he had not yet spoken to the woman and staff members involved. In our view, two days was a reasonable amount of time for Mr Hamlett to be alerted to the incident, and to gather the necessary information to enable him to make an informed and reasoned response. We consider that Paradise Valley Springs, via the complainant, was given an adequate opportunity to mitigate any unfairness by fronting up and providing its side of the story.

 

[49]  Accordingly, we do not consider that Mr Hamlett or Paradise Valley Springs were treated unfairly in the news broadcasts and we therefore decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 6 was breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
9 August 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Stuart Hamlett’s formal complaint – 10 January 2011

2                 RadioWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 15 March 2011

3                 Mr Hamlett’s referral to the Authority – 12 April 2011

4                 RadioWorks’ response to the Authority (including transcripts for some broadcasts) –
                   1 July 2011