Helm and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-101
- Joanne Morris (Chair)
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Tapu Misa
- Paul France
- Roger Helm
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sunday – item examined attitudes of “boy racers” in Christchurch and the efforts by police to curb their activities – allegedly inaccurate
Standard 5 (accuracy) – item focused on the “boy racers” and their attitudes – did not purport to examine the issue from residents’ perspective – clear from the item that “boy racer” activities were noisy and disruptive – also stated that police were outnumbered and struggling to contain the problem – not inaccurate or misleading – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An item on Sunday, broadcast on TV One at 7.30pm on 31 May 2009 reported on the ongoing problem of “boy racers” in Christchurch and efforts by police to curb their activities. The reporter spoke to a number of “boy racers” about their attitudes, in particular one young man who was responsible for coordinating “meetings” which attracted up to 700 cars.
 The reporter also interviewed two policemen. One of them had been attacked by “boy racers”, and the other said that he targeted them “on certain occasions”. The reporter stated that the damage being caused by the “boy racers” to Christchurch roads was costing the Council and ratepayers thousands of dollars to repair.
 Roger Helm made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was inaccurate.
 First, Mr Helm argued that the item was inaccurate in implying that “the issue was one of road safety and maintenance”. The complainant maintained that anyone living in the central city in Christchurch would agree that the main problem associated with the disruptive drivers was the noise they created, not road safety. He considered that the item had not provided any evidence such as accident statistics or large maintenance costs, and that it implied that noise was only a minor element of traffic law infringements.
 Second, the complainant argued that it was misleading to imply that “the police have been assiduously pursuing and prosecuting disruptive drivers”. He maintained that while “there might be very recent police activity on this problem... the history of Christchurch noise driving is one of almost total inaction by the police”.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:
Standard 5 Accuracy
News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 TVNZ argued that the problems created by the “boy racer” culture were generally well known, and the item did not set out to list those problems. Rather, it said, the attitudes of the boys were under examination, and it was clear from their interviews that “no matter what the issue: danger to themselves and other people, the cost to re-seal the roads they had ruined, fines or inconvenience to the public – they just did not care”.
 The broadcaster maintained that the item had not stated or implied that the “boy racers” did not create a lot of noise pollution. It considered that the noise problem was evident from the footage of burn-outs and “boy racer” meetings without going into explicit detail. The fact that this item did not concentrate on noise as one of the problems caused by “boy racers” would not have misled the audience, TVNZ said.
 With respect to the two problems that the item did consider – road maintenance and safety – TVNZ noted that Sunday had followed the cars and witnessed the activities of the “boy racers” and the damage caused. The next day, Sunday filmed the Council undertaking repairs which cost ratepayers of Christchurch $25,000. TVNZ said that this type of damage was not “a minor element of traffic law infringements”, and noted that the attitude of the “boy racers” was one of indifference to the costs caused by them.
 With regard to the issue of road safety, the broadcaster noted that the item included footage of one “boy racer” pouring oil on the road for the purpose of performing skids and burn-outs. The reporter questioned the men about the possible impact this might have on ordinary road users and they indicated that they had not considered that issue. “The pursuit of this line of inquiry was valid,” TVNZ said, and it did not mislead the audience. The safety of road users was an important consideration, the broadcaster said.
 TVNZ emphasised that the item did not suggest that road maintenance and safety were the only problems caused by “boy racers”, nor did it suggest that police had maintained a “constant campaign against the noise drivers” as argued by Mr Helm. The item did refer to the actions of one policeman because he had had a long involvement in policing the problem of “boy racers” in Christchurch. TVNZ noted that the item also looked at the wider issue of police not having the numbers to address the problems caused by the “boy racer” meetings where hundreds of people may attend.
 TVNZ concluded that the item had not breached Standard 5.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Helm referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He reiterated the arguments contained in his formal complaint.
 Mr Helm disagreed with TVNZ that the road repairs cost $25,000. He said the Christchurch City Council had informed him that was possibly an annual figure for that type of damage, which would add about six cents to his annual rates.
 The complainant argued the term “boy racer” was inaccurate. The “noise drivers” were not necessarily male or under 20 years of age, he said, and usually were not seen driving at excessive speed. He considered therefore that viewers would have been left with a misleading impression “of the Christchurch post-midnight disruptive driver problem”. He maintained that hardly any of the chronic noise was attributable to “burn-outs” and “boy racer meetings”.
 Mr Helm considered that TVNZ’s response suggested that an item on some activity need not deal with all aspects of the activity. Since noise was by far the most serious aspect of the disruptive driving, this selectivity led to a “grossly misleading” report, he said.
 Finally, the complainant argued that the item implied that the policeman interviewed was “one of many routinely ‘hunting’ the drivers” giving the impression that police had been making a genuine effort to stop them. Mr Helm maintained that police response to the noise in the central city “has ranged from nil to at best token and unsatisfactory”.
 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 requires that news, current affairs and other factual programmes are truthful and accurate on points of fact. Mr Helm complained about two aspects of the item. First, he considered that it was misleading to imply that road safety and damage were the main problems associated with boy racing, because the biggest problem was noise. Second, he argued that it was misleading to imply that police were making every effort to resolve the problem.
 The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the focus of the item was the "boy racers" themselves – their attitudes, and what motivated them to behave as they did. The item also included comments from the police about the impact of their activities. In the Authority's view, this was a legitimate approach to an issue which has had widespread coverage. The Authority considers that noise levels may well have been a central part of an item which looked at the issue from the perspective of residents like Mr Helm, but the fact that the Sunday item did not include a more explicit mention of the noise created by the activities of the "boy racers" did not make the programme misleading or inaccurate. In any event, it was clear from the item that the "boy racers'" activities were noisy and disruptive.
 With regard to Mr Helm’s complaint that the item implied that “the police have been assiduously pursuing and prosecuting disruptive drivers”, the Authority notes that the reporter made numerous comments to the effect that the police were outnumbered when it came to policing the “boy racer” meetings, and that they were struggling to contain the problem. Further, even if the item had implied that the police had been actively pursuing the problem, the Authority notes that the complainant has not provided any evidence to suggest that this is not the case. As the item said, more fines had been issued to “boy racers” in Christchurch than in Auckland, suggesting that the police were making efforts to penalise them.
 In these circumstances, the Authority concludes that the item was not misleading or inaccurate in breach of the accuracy standard.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
25 November 2009
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Roger Helm’s formal complaint – 24 June 2009
2. TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 24 July 2009
3. Mr Helm’s referral to the Authority – 13 August 2009
4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 9 September 2009