BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hatton and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-010

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • P G Hatton
Number
2002-010
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
New Rulers of the World – promo for the John Pilger documentary – answer to one question presented as answer to another – unfair and deceptive – complaint upheld – in-house action taken

Findings
Serious breach – action taken insufficient

Order
Broadcast of approved statement

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The John Pilger documentary, The New Rulers of the World, was screened on TV One at 9.45pm on 10 October 2001. In a promo broadcast earlier, Mr Fisher of the IMF was seen to respond to a statement from Mr Pilger saying "what are you asking me this question for". However, during the broadcast it was apparent that this response was made to another unrelated question.

[2] P G Hatton complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the promo, by using this editing practice, was unfair and lacked objectivity.

[3] TVNZ acknowledged the viewer could have been misled and upheld the complaint about unfairness, and it accepted that the process amounted to a deceptive programme practice. It advised that the matter had been taken up with TV One’s Promotions Department.

[4] Dissatisfied that the action taken did not include an apology, P G Hatton referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaint that the action taken was insufficient. It orders the broadcast of an approved statement.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the promo complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] A promo for the documentary The New Rulers of the World was broadcast on a number of occasions in the week preceding the programme’s screening at 9.45pm on 10 October 2001. The documentary, made by John Pilger, included an interview with Mr Fisher of the IMF. During the promo, Mr Fisher responded to John Pilger’s comment that some luxury hotels had been built on the mass murder of as many as one million people, with the remark "what are you asking me this question for?". However, during the broadcast it was apparent that this response was made to another unrelated question.

The Complaint

[7] P G Hatton complained to TVNZ that Mr Fisher had given this answer to a different question. The impression given, he wrote, suggested that Mr Fisher did not care how many people had died.

[8] P G Hatton argued that the promo was intended to make the audience sympathetic to John Pilger, and thus the promo was biased, unfair and lacked objectivity.

The Standards

[9] TVNZ considered the complaint under standards G4 and G7 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They require broadcasters in the preparation and presentation of programmes:

G4 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any programme.

G7 To avoid the use of any deceptive programme practice in the presentation of programmes which takes advantage of the confidence viewers have in the integrity of broadcasting.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] TVNZ acknowledged that it was unacceptable, in the preparation of a promo, to edit a documentary in such a way that a person seemed to be answering one question, when in fact she or he was answering another.

[11] Nevertheless, it added, the promo had been prepared to illustrate the provocative nature of the documentary rather than the specific response to a particular question. It noted, however, that a viewer could have been misled into thinking that the question and answer were related. As that was unfair, TVNZ upheld the fairness aspect of the complaint under standard G4.

[12] TVNZ also upheld the standard G7 aspect as although it was not intended to mislead viewers, it said the fact that they could have been amounted to a deceptive programme practice.

[13] TVNZ apologised to the complainant for the concern caused and advised that the Head of Television had undertaken to take the matter up with TV One’s Promotions Department.

The Complainant’s Referral to the Authority

[14] When the complaint was referred to the Authority, P G Hatton said he was concerned that TVNZ had not offered a public apology or otherwise remedied the fault. P G Hatton maintained that viewers should be advised of the error with an apology broadcast for the same number of times as the promo was screened. Additionally the complainant proposed that TVNZ send a letter of apology to Mr Fisher with an appropriate explanation and an expression of regret.

The Broadcaster’s Response the Authority

[15] In response, TVNZ argued that the broadcast of the apology as suggested "would only serve to cause immense confusion" as the programme to which the promo related had since been screened. It pointed out that viewers would now have difficulty in recalling the promo and the question involved.

[16] TVNZ wrote:

TVNZ has admitted fault here but we do not believe that any further action is necessary. The incident revealed the need for promo directors to be appraised of fundamental journalistic practice (well-known in the newsroom, but rarely encountered in the entertainment section of the company). The Head of TV One promos has taken this matter up with her staff and has made it clear to them that in handling documentary material questions and answers should not be mixed up.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[17] While acknowledging TVNZ’s point that it might not be easy for an apology to convey the point succinctly, in a final comment P G Hatton maintained that did not justify not providing any apology.

[18] P G Hatton also argued that contrary to TVNZ’s opinion, Mr Fisher (the IMF representative) deserved an apology.

[19] In conclusion, P G Hatton expressed the strong opinion that those responsible for preparing promotions had to display the same journalistic integrity as those preparing programmes.

The Authority’s Determination

[20] TVNZ has upheld a complaint that it is unacceptable, in the preparation of a promo, to edit a documentary in such a way that a person seemed to be answering one question, when in fact he was answering another.

[21] TVNZ concluded that the practice complained about on this occasion breached both standards G4 and G7 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. However, TVNZ considered that an apology to the complainant and in-house action was sufficient action to remedy the breach.

[22] The Authority does not agree that this action is sufficient. It considers that the editing of a documentary in this way, in the preparation of a promo, amounts to a serious breach of the standards. It agrees with the complainant that there should be public acknowledgment of the breach.

[23] While it accepts that there is little point in requiring an apology to Mr Fisher of the IMF, the Authority is firmly of the opinion that TVNZ should broadcast a summary of this decision. It considers that a broadcast statement can be prepared to avoid the confusion which TVNZ is concerned about. The statement should focus on the practice adopted, rather than provide unnecessary detail of the specific incident.

[24] In reaching this decision, the Authority records that it has considered whether the limits it has placed on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, as contained in s14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, is unjustifiably infringed. The Authority’s decision to uphold this complaint, and its resultant order, are made under its empowering legislation. The Authority is satisfied that the exercise of its power on this occasion does not unduly restrict the broadcaster’s right to express itself freely. Indeed, it considers that, while giving effect to the intention of the Broadcasting Act, the upholding of this complaint is reasonable and demonstrably justified owing to the editing deception used in the preparation of the promo. In coming to this conclusion, the Authority has taken into account all the circumstances of this complaint, including the nature of the error, the broadcaster’s admission of the error, and the potential impact of the order.

 

For the reasons above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the action taken by Television New Zealand Ltd, when it upheld the complaint about the broadcast of a promo for The New Rulers of the World broadcast on 10 October 2001, was insufficient.

[25] The Authority imposes the following order:

Order

Pursuant to Section 13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders Television New Zealand Ltd to broadcast, within one month of the date of this decision, a statement explaining why the complaint was upheld. The statement shall be approved by the Authority and shall be broadcast at a time and date to be approved by the Authority.

The Authority draws the broadcaster’s attention to the requirement in section 13(3)(b) of the Act for the broadcaster to give notice to the Authority and the complainant of the manner in which the order has been complied with.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
21 February 2002

Appendix

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

1. P G Hatton’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 11 October 2001
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 5 November 2001
3. P G Hatton‘s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority
    – 22 November 2001
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 4 December 2001
5. P G Hatton’s Final Comment – 17 December 2001