BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Harvey and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2006-097

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Allan Harvey
Number
2006-097
Programme
60 Minutes
Broadcaster
CanWest TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 2

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
60 Minutes – item reporting research into filicide, where parents murder their children – presenter noted that filicide “is often committed by men” – interviewed two women whose partners had murdered their children and referred to a third case where a mother had murdered her daughters – allegedly unbalanced and unfair

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance in terms of balance standard – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant did not allege that any person or organisation taking part or referred to in the broadcast was treated unfairly – standard does not apply – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] An item on 60 Minutes, broadcast at 7.30pm on 26 June 2006, discussed research conducted by a psychologist, Rhonda Pritchard, into filicide cases – where parents had murdered their own children. The presenter stated that approximately two cases of filicide occurred in New Zealand each year, and added:

Filicide is often committed by men, men who are known as good loving fathers, men with no history of insanity.

[2] The programme said that Ms Pritchard had conducted the only study on filicide in New Zealand, and had noted that there had been no history of psychosis or mental illness in almost all of the cases in her study. It included interviews with two women whose partners had murdered their children, and it also referred to a case where a mother had murdered her three children and then killed herself. When introducing this last example, the reporter said, “Yes, mothers as well as fathers commit filicide”

Complaint

[3] Allan Harvey made a formal complaint about the programme to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster. He contended that the item was biased and unbalanced, referring specifically to the introductory comment that filicide was “often committed by men”. Mr Harvey maintained that this statement was repeated throughout the story, and argued that it was false to imply that such murders were “significantly the result of male (father) violence”.

[4] In the complainant’s view, the programme would have given viewers a distorted picture of filicide by biological parents. He said:

It is an established fact that most filicide occurs to young children. A 1999 US Department of Justice study shows that mothers are responsible for the majority of infant murders up until the children are over 8 years of age. After that time it is true that fathers are more likely to be responsible for such murders by biological parents. However, it is more common for such murders to be committed by step-parents for school-aged children than by either biological parent.

[5] Mr Harvey noted that the programme had focused on Ms Pritchard’s study which, he said, was tightly focused on six case studies involving four male and two female murderers. He contended that the programme had not made it clear that this was a biased sample. Further, Mr Harvey asserted that the study, and the programme, should have included infanticide cases which he said were largely committed by females.

[6] The complainant submitted that “the use of a very small study as the basis for global statements implying that men (fathers) are the primary perpetrators of filicide” was unacceptable. He asked that CanWest retract the claim that fathers were most likely to commit such crimes.

Standards

[7]CanWest assessed the complaint under Standards 4 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8] CanWest accepted that the broad topic of “children who are killed by a family member or a member of their household” was a topical controversial issue of public importance. Although the programme had focused on one aspect of that broader issue, it wrote, given the currency of the overall issue it felt that Standard 4 applied.

[9] Looking at Mr Harvey’s complaint that the programme gave a false impression that filicide was predominantly a male crime, CanWest said that it could only identify two express statements which referred to the issue of gender. First, the introductory statement that filicide was often committed by men, and secondly the statement in the body of the programme that “yes, mothers as well as fathers commit filicide”. The broadcaster did not consider that these statements implied that filicide was significantly the result of male violence.

[10] CanWest also disagreed that the detailed consideration of two cases involving fathers who had killed their children had led to a lack of balance. It noted that the programme had also referred to a case where a mother had killed her children, and had explicitly stated that mothers also committed filicide. This, it argued, would have made it clear to viewers that filicide was “not a crime committed only or significantly more often by men/fathers”.

[11] The broadcaster also referred to an email from the producer of the programme, who explained that it had been difficult to get people of either gender to talk about the issue. The producer said:

Firstly, the intention was not to target fathers, it was to investigate the reasons for parental murder. Secondly, our story was about filicide in New Zealand, for which figures are hard to find. The only study we know of in this country was carried out by Rhonda Pritchard and it looked at four fathers and two mothers. Thirdly, the story was about parents who kill their “children”, not babies, and even if you look at the American statistics, it seems most of those parents are fathers.

[12] To the limited extent to which the programme discussed the topic of the gender of the perpetrator, CanWest stated that the programme was balanced. It also found that the inclusion of statistics relating to infanticide was not required. It declined to uphold the balance complaint.

[13] In relation to fairness, the broadcaster noted that Mr Harvey had not specified the manner in which he contended the programme was unfair. It assumed that his concern was that the programme was unfair to men and fathers by suggesting that they were the primary perpetrators of filicide. CanWest found that Standard 6 had not been breached for the reasons outlined in its consideration of the balance standard.

Referral to the Authority

[14] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Harvey referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He stated that CanWest was incorrect in stating that Ms Pritchard’s study was the only study of child homicide in New Zealand, and he referred to two other examples which he said were “more extensive studies”. Mr Harvey contended that the introductory comment was offensive and lacking in “balance, accuracy and fairness to viewers”.

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.

Procedural Matter

[16] Mr Harvey did not nominate any particular standards in his formal complaint to the broadcaster, and CanWest considered his complaint under Standards 4 and 6 of the Television Code. In his referral, however, Mr Harvey also alleged that the programme was inaccurate under Standard 5.

[17] The Authority has previously interpreted the Broadcasting Act 1989 as barring complainants from raising new standards when referring a complaint to the Authority. Mr Harvey did not explicitly refer to the accuracy standard in his formal complaint to CanWest. CanWest informed Mr Harvey that it intended to consider the complaint under the balance and fairness standards and he had the opportunity at that stage to request that it also be considered under Standard 5 (accuracy). He did not do so, and the Authority must accordingly confine its deliberations to Standards 4 and 6 of the Television Code.

Standard 4 (balance)

[18] Standard 4 requires that balance be provided when controversial issues of public importance are discussed. On this occasion, while the subject of filicide is clearly of public importance, the Authority considers that the programme did not discuss a controversial aspect of the issue, for the purposes of Standard 4. The item did not present the issue as being the subject of controversy or argument. Instead, it presented Rhonda Pritchard’s observations from her study on filicide in a factual way, including the psychology and motivation of those who commit the crime, and focussed on the stories of two women whose husbands had murdered their children.

[19] Because the item focused narrowly on Ms Pritchard’s research and simply used the women’s stories to illustrate her conclusions, the Authority concludes that the programme did not discuss a “controversial issue” for the purposes of Standard 4. It declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[20] The Authority notes that Standard 6 (fairness) only applies to “any person or organisation taking part or referred to” in a programme. Because the complainant has not pointed to any individual or organisation taking part or referred to in the programme that he alleges was treated unfairly by the broadcaster, the Authority declines to uphold the fairness complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 December 2006

Appendix

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

1    Allan Harvey’s formal complaint – 11 July 2006

2    CanWest’s decision on the formal complaint – 9 August 2006

3    Mr Harvey’s referral to the Authority – 31 August 2006

4    Further submissions from Mr Harvey – 13 September 2006

5    CanWest’s response to the referral – 9 November 2006