BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McQueen and TVWorks Ltd - 2013-081

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Ewen McQueen
Number
2013-081
Programme
Campbell Live
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

An item on Campbell Live featured an interview with a voluntary euthanasia advocate. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the item was unbalanced as it failed present other significant views on euthanasia. The item was clearly focused on one woman’s personal experience, so viewers would not have expected an even-handed analysis of all arguments for and against legalising euthanasia. Euthanasia is recognised as an ongoing, highly charged social and legal issue, and different viewpoints in the debate will be offered from time to time. In this context the broadcaster adequately acknowledged the existence of other perspectives.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues


Introduction

[1]  An item on Campbell Live featured an interview with a voluntary euthanasia advocate. It was introduced as follows:

In a moment, as the euthanasia debate surfaced again this week, I spoke with a daughter who came close to ending her mother’s life as she suffered in her last days from terminal cancer.

[2]  The item was broadcast on TV3 on 18 October 2013.

[3]  Ewen McQueen made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that other significant views on euthanasia were not presented either in the item or others broadcast within the period of current interest.

[4]  The issue is whether the item breached the balance standard, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was the item sufficiently balanced?

[6]  The balance standard (Standard 4) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest. The balance standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented, where necessary, to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.1

[7]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.2

[8]  In addition, guideline 4b to the standard allows us to take into account the programme’s introduction, whether the programme approached the topic from a particular perspective and whether viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage, when assessing whether a reasonable range of views have been presented.

[9]  While we have previously acknowledged that voluntary euthanasia is a controversial issue of public importance to which the standard applies,3 we do not consider that the Campbell Live item amounted to a ‘discussion’ of that issue, such that it was required to present alternative views. The item was quite clearly focused on one woman’s personal experience, and was framed as such in the introduction (see paragraph [1]), so viewers would not have expected the item to be an in-depth or even-handed analysis of all arguments for and against legalising euthanasia. Guideline 4b recognises that the requirement for a broadcaster to provide balance may be lessened if the item is clearly approached from a particular perspective, as this item was.

[10]  The requirement is also lessened if the issue is one that has been the subject of such widespread debate that the basic facts and a range of significant viewpoints are already well known. Euthanasia is recognised as a long-running moral issue that has an ongoing period of current interest.4 It is accepted that the broad perspectives in the debate are known to the public and that different viewpoints from both sides of the debate will be offered from time to time. The Authority recognises that euthanasia is a highly charged social and legal issue. Programmes covering this issue are in the public interest as they encourage debate. This item was valuable in that it added another perspective to the debate by highlighting the emotional as well as the legal implications surrounding euthanasia. That the interviewee had strongly considered euthanising her terminally ill mother but ultimately could not bring herself to follow through, illustrated the complexity of the issue.

[11]  In this context, we consider that it was sufficient for the item to acknowledge the debate and the existence of other perspectives, without discussing those perspectives in detail. The introduction, the interviewee herself, and also viewer feedback at the end of the programme demonstrated that euthanasia is a much-debated and serious issue, and reinforced that the interviewee’s perspective was contributing to this ongoing debate rather than presenting the only viewpoint on the issue. The item contained the following comments:

  • ‘...the euthanasia debate surfaced again this week…’ (introduction)
  • ‘It is an uncomfortable, polarising subject – the sanctity of life versus the right to end a life of suffering.’ (introduction)
  • ‘Australian TV presenter [name] ignited the debate there, with an open letter to a newspaper apologising to her late mother for not killing her…’ (introduction)
  • ‘There are a handful of people who, when I speak about this publicly, who get very angry. I respect that and understand that. I’ve had emails from cancer sufferers saying “How dare you? Don’t you try to kill me”.’
  • ‘Can we now hear from a palliative care specialist who says that there is no excuse for someone dying in pain like that and therefore will not support voluntary euthanasia? [The interviewee’s] mother eventually died naturally when she was ready.’ (viewer feedback)

[12]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 4 was breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
4 March 2014

Appendix

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

1                  Ewen McQueen’s formal complaint – 11 October 2013

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 4 November 2013

3                 Mr McQueen’s referral to the Authority – 5 November 2013

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 13 November 2013

5                 Mr McQueen’s final comment – 3 January 2014

6                 TVWorks’ confirmation of no final comment – 19 February 2014


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

2For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010).

3E.g. McQueen and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2012-068

4Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television  (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010)