BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McDonald and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2004-183

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Donald McDonald
Number
2004-183
Programme
3 News
Broadcaster
CanWest TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 2
Standards Breached

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item about new pricing structures for national calls at Telecom – graphic stated $0.08c per minute on national calls – correct price $0.18c per minute – allegedly inaccurate

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – graphic inaccurate – significant mistake requiring correction – upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6:00pm on 26 August 2004, contained an item on new pricing structures at Telecom for national calls.  During the item, a graphic noted the following:

“Anytime Plan”

National Calling: $0.08c per minute

National Capped: $2.75 (up to two hours)

Home to Mobile: $0.48c calls to 027 & 025, $0.55c calls to 021 & 029

[2] The correct price for national calls was in fact $0.18c per minute.  The reporter made no reference to either the incorrect graphic or the correct figure during the item.

Complaint

[3] Donald McDonald complained to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was inaccurate and thus breached Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Code of Broadcasting Practice.  He stated that after checking in the New Zealand Herald newspaper for that day, and calling Telecom, he confirmed that the price was in fact $0.18c per minute.  He stated that this was a “serious error” and that the price in the graphic was less than 45% of the correct cost.

[4] Mr McDonald stated that he called TV3 and informed them of the mistake but noticed that the error was not corrected in the 10:30 news that evening. 

Standards or Principles

[5] Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to this complaint.  This 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.

Guidelines

5a  Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

5e  Broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to ensure at all times that the information sources for news, current affairs and documentaries are reliable.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6] CanWest declined to uphold the complaint.  It confirmed that the correct rate was in fact the $0.18c per minute as Mr McDonald contended, but that the incorrect graphic was displayed only very briefly and did not create a “material or significant error in the context of the item overall”.  It noted that the mistake was simply the result of a typing error and that the incorrect figure was not referred to by the reporter.

[7] It stated that the reporter had taken all appropriate steps to obtain accurate and current information that was included in the report and thus the item did not breach the standard. 

[8] CanWest also noted that the mistake was not so significant in the context of the overall item as to require immediate correction in accordance with Guideline 5a.

Referral to the Authority

[9] Mr McDonald was dissatisfied with this response and accordingly referred his complaint to the Authority.  In his referral Mr McDonald noted that the “per minute” Telecom prices were the “most essential” information in the story.  He reiterated his view that this was a serious error, and that as the sound was down on his television he could easily have been “completely fooled like everyone” had he not by chance remembered reading something on the issue in the newspaper that same day.

[10] Mr McDonald asked that CanWest correct the information as soon as possible and broadcast a “message”.  

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[11] CanWest made no further submissions in response to Mr McDonald’s referral of his complaint to the Authority.

Authority's Determination

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

[13] This complaint concerns a simple matter of a mistake being made in one of the multiple and complex functions which are required to make up a television news bulletin – a keyboard error occurred in the construction of the graphic.

[14] The Authority accepts that this sort of mistake is occasionally made, despite everyone’s best efforts to ensure the contrary. 

[15] Nevertheless, CanWest has acknowledged that the figure in the graphic was wrong, and accordingly that it broadcast a figure that was significantly different from the true one.  In these circumstances, the Authority has no hesitation in finding that the broadcast breached Standard 5 (accuracy).

[16] CanWest also acknowledged that it did not correct the error despite being advised of its existence by the complainant.  CanWest noted that “the information was not so significant in the context of the overall item to require immediate correction.”

[17] The Authority does not agree.  In the Authority’s view, the error went to the heart of the item – Telecom’s new pricing plan.  While it accepts that the item focussed more on the capped pricing for national calls rather than the per-minute figure, the Authority nevertheless considers that the per-minute figure was a fundamental element of the new price structure. 

[18] For this reason, that Authority also considers that the mistake should have been corrected at the earliest opportunity, at the very least in the news bulletin some four hours later.

[19] The Authority expresses surprise and concern at CanWest’s attitude in stating that the error was insignificant and immaterial.  The Authority also notes its disappointment that in light of the obvious error, CanWest nevertheless chose not to uphold Mr McDonald’s complaint, resulting in the referral to this Authority. 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by CanWest TV Works Ltd on 3 News on 26 August 2004 breached Standard 5 (accuracy) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice

[20] Having upheld the complaints, and in light of CanWest’s apparent reluctance to acknowledge either that an error had been made, or that it required correction, the Authority invited submissions on orders from the parties. 

[21] Mr McDonald, in his submissions, requested that the Authority award him $243 costs.  He also submitted that a broadcast statement would be appropriate. 

[22] CanWest submitted that upholding the complaint would itself provide a sufficient remedy.  CanWest also informed the Authority that that the newsroom was not aware of the mistake, as it did not receive the complainant’s message, and stated:

The Director of News and the Senior Producer have both assured the [Standards] Committee that (contrary to the statement made by the Committee in its decision) if the newsroom had been aware of the mistake every effort would be made to ensure the correction was made or the mistaken graphic was at least explained by the news presenter in the later news programme.  The Committee and the Authority are assured that no error of any nature would knowingly be allowed to go to air. …

The Committee has been asked by senior news executives to correct any impression given by the Standards Committee decision that an error of this nature was acceptable.  Of course errors do occur but they are never knowingly perpetuated.  So far as the newsroom is concerned an error of any nature (irrespective of its significance) is to be avoided if at all possible and certainly would be corrected if at all possible.  The newsroom holds itself to a very high standard of reporting.

[23] The Authority does not consider an award of costs to Mr McDonald to be appropriate.  The majority of costs awards are designed to reimburse to complainants a portion of legal costs reasonably incurred in pursuing their complaint.  In exceptional circumstances, other out-of-pocket expenses directly related to the laying of the complaint may also be claimed.

[24] Mr McDonald has not incurred any legal costs, and the costs in respect of which he has claimed reimbursement – such as postage, use of his computer and telephone calls – are costs that a member of the public should expect to bear if he or she wishes to have a complaint considered.  For this reason, no award of costs will be made to Mr McDonald.

[25] The Authority agrees with CanWest’s submission to the effect that upholding the complaint is itself a sufficient remedy in all the circumstances of this case.  As noted above, submissions on order were called for because of CanWest’s perceived reluctance to attribute any significance to the mistake in the item or indeed to the complaint.  CanWest has now explained to the Authority that in fact there was no such reluctance; it has assured the Authority that had the newsroom been aware of the mistake, it would have been addressed at the earliest possible opportunity. 

[26] While it would have been helpful for this position to have been brought to the Authority’s attention earlier in the process, the Authority is now satisfied that no further action on its part is required. 

[27] For this reason, the Authority does not impose an order.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
18 February 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Donald McDonald’s formal complaint to CanWest TVWorks Ltd – 28 August 2004
  2. CanWest’s acknowledgement of receipt of formal complaint – 31 August 2004
  3. CanWest’s response to the complaint – 1 October 2004
  4. Mr McDonald’s referral to the Authority – 15 October 2004
  5. CanWest’s response to the referral – 22 November 2004
  6. Mr McDonald’s submissions on order – 14 January 2005
  7. CanWest’s submissions on order – 13 January 2005