BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Mirica and Network Visas NZ Ltd and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-191

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainants
  • Florea Mirica
  • Network Visas NZ Ltd
Number
2003-191
Programme
Holmes
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaints under s.8(1)(a) and s.8(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
1. Holmes – 18 and 19 November 2003 – complainant director of Network Visas NZ Ltd – in dispute with 13 Romanian students – complainant’s home shown on item as location where business operated from – not company’s registered office – complainant given inadequate opportunity to respond – a number of factual inaccuracies – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

2. Holmes – 18 November 2003 – complainant’s home shown on item as location where business operated from – after broadcast, complainant visited by landlord – complainant’s wife who operates beauty business from the address felt intimidated – alleged breach of privacy

3. Holmes – 11 February 2004 – update on situation of Romanian students – reported that students had each been awarded $7500 by Disputes Tribunal against Mr Mirica not Network Visas – repeated students’ claims against Mr Mirica – not reported that Tribunal decisions were being appealed – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

Findings 1 – Holmes – 18 and 19 November 2003
Standard 4 (balance) – complainant’s response broadcast impartially – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – no inaccuracies – visa dispute resolved in Disputes Tribunal and District Court – not upheld

Standard 6 (discrimination) – item did not encourage discrimination against truck drivers or immigration consultants – not upheld

Findings 2 – Holmes – 18 November 2003
Standard 3 (privacy) – neither disclosure nor facts disclosed offensive – no prying – not upheld

Findings 3 – Holmes – 11 February 2004
Standard 4 (balance) – Immigration Minister’s decision was the issue – no need for response from complainant – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – no inaccuracies – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – no unfairness – not upheld

Release of decision delayed by Court proceedings

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcasts

[1] The plight of 13 Romanians in regard to their visas and status in New Zealand was dealt with in items broadcast on Holmes on TV One at 7.00pm on 18 and 19 November 2003. It was reported that they had each paid Mr Florea Mirica NZ$11,000 on the basis that they would be able to come to New Zealand and start a new life. However, the documentation they held showed that they were allowed into New Zealand only to complete a language course lasting a few months, after which they were required to return to Romania.

[2] The first item also included interviews with the then Minister of Immigration, the Hon Lianne Dalziel, and Mr Aussie Malcolm, an immigration consultant. Mr Malcolm suggested the need for licensing in the immigration industry as in his opinion some consultants acted in an unprofessional way.

[3] Mr Mirica, whose house was shown, did not appear on the broadcasts. The first item included an extract from a letter from his lawyers in which he declined to appear in view of impending proceedings in the Disputes Tribunal. It was also reported that he worked both as an immigration consultant and a truck driver.

[4] A postscript to the item broadcast on 19 November included offers of employment for the Romanians received by the Holmes show.

[5] The situation of the Romanians was updated in an item broadcast on Holmes on TV One on 11 February 2004. It was reported that each of the students had been successful in a claim against Mr Mirica in the Disputes Tribunal, and each had been awarded $7500, the maximum amount permissible in that jurisdiction. In view of the successful claims, the Romanians hoped to obtain visas from the New Zealand Immigration Service which would enable them to stay in New Zealand and take up the jobs which they had been offered.

[6] The item included an interview with the then Associate Minister of Immigration, the Hon Damian O’Connor, who said the Romanians would be advised of the result of their applications shortly.

Privacy Complaint

[7] Florea Mirica complained directly to the Authority under s.8(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 that the item broadcast on 18 November, showing his home, breached his privacy. As a consequence, he had been visited by his landlord’s agent who had been contacted by neighbours. His wife, who operated her own beauty business from the home, had felt intimidated and had been unable to continue. That had caused emotional and financial loss.

[8] The item had stated that the Romanians received their visas through Network Visas NZ Ltd. While he acknowledged that he was a director and shareholder of that company, Mr Mirica provided evidence that his home was not the company’s registered office.

Standards Complaint – Holmes 18 and 19 November 2003

[9] Mr Mirica also complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the items did not give him a reasonable opportunity to present his point of view, were unbalanced and partial, were inaccurate and failed to deal with him fairly.

[10] With regard to the failure to provide a reasonable opportunity to respond, Mr Mirica said a reporter from Holmes knocked on his door on the morning of 18 November and he was asked to provide a comment by 2.00pm. Just before 2.00pm, he continued, his solicitor advised the reporter that it was not appropriate to comment until the Disputes Tribunal had dealt with claims from the Romanians which totalled $97,500. Nevertheless, he added, the item was broadcast that evening.

[11] As for the balance and impartiality complaint, Mr Mirica contended that those standards were breached as only part of his written statement was read on Holmes and the presenter observed that it sounded “like a John Mitchell announcement”. The Authority notes that John Mitchell was, at that time, the All Black coach and that his reputation was of being averse to media comment.

[12] Mr Mirica argued that the item was inaccurate as:

  • it had been explained to the students, contrary to the assertion in the item, that Network Visas NZ Ltd had obtained a Limited Purpose Visa only. Further, the company had offered the students a refund if they were not happy with the visas once provided
  • he did not make the offer as it came from Network Visas
  • the students had not been told, as the presenter alleged, that they would be able to work while on a student visa
  • in view of the contract between each student and the company, it was inaccurate to state they came to New Zealand with a dream of a better life
  • the presenter’s comment about the costs for each student was based on the incorrect assumption that the students were telling the truth
  • the footage shown supposedly of the Romanian revolution had been taken at a different time.

[13] As for the unfairness aspect, Mr Mirica referred to the guideline under which denigration of sections in the community was not to be encouraged. The item, he contended, by referring to both his jobs, had encouraged denigration of and discrimination against truck drivers and immigration agents.

[14] In view of the extent of the complaints Mr Mirica sought the broadcast of an apology, legal costs and compensation to Network Visas for loss of business.

Standards Complaint – Holmes 11 February 2004

Mr Mirica complained that the item broadcast on 11 February 2004 was again unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair. Moreover, in view of the earlier complaints, TVNZ would have been aware that there was factual information which the Romanians “chose to omit or deny”. Further inquiries, he continued, would have disclosed that the Disputes Tribunal awards were against Network Visas NZ Ltd, and not Mr Mirica, that the decisions had been appealed and, meanwhile, payment of the sums awarded had been suspended.

[16] Mr Mirica’s solicitor advised that she had informed Holmes of these points while the item was screening, but there had been no response and a correction was not broadcast.

[17] Four specific aspects to the complaint were listed:

  • The item was wrong in reporting that Mr Mirica, and not Network Visas NZ Ltd, had made the contracts with the Romanians.
  • Network Visas had arranged study visas. It had not promised work visas, contrary to the claim in the item.
  • Network Visas had not misrepresented the type of visas the Romanians would be granted.
  • The Disputes Tribunal awards were suspended and thus did not need to be paid.

[18] The complainant sought an apology, legal costs and compensation.

Standards

[19] TVNZ assessed the complaints under Standards 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which state:

Standard 3

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the privacy of the individual.

Standard 4

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 5

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Standard 6

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 – Holmes 18 and 19 November

[20] TVNZ said that the item told the story of 13 Romanians who believed that permanent residence in New Zealand was probable if they came to New Zealand as students and found a job while they were here. TVNZ said that the item explained:

The offer came from Florea Mirica, an immigration consultant, who runs his business Network Visas from his home, and is a truck driver by day.

Privacy Complaint

[21] As for the privacy complaint, TVNZ acknowledged that the home was not the company’s registered office, but contended that it was the place from which both Mr Mirica and his wife operated their businesses. Moreover, that address was shown on the company’s website.

[22] TVNZ denied that the item breached any of the Privacy Principles, pointing out that there was, as well, a “public interest” defence for breaches of privacy. It recommended that the Authority decline to uphold the complaint.

Standards Complaints

[23] As for the complaint which alleged there was insufficient time to respond, TVNZ explained that the preparation of the item about some students whose visas were due to expire within days involved a number of enquiries. It wrote:

Mr Mirica was given sufficient time to respond to what was said about him. The allegations were straight forward. Simply put these were that he had failed to obtain for them what he had promised to obtain, and had charged each Romanian about $11,000.

[24] TVNZ outlined the discussions with Mr Mirica on 18 November and noted that his solicitors did not ask for an extension of time. If such a request had been made, TVNZ observed, consideration would have been given to holding the story over for a day.

[25] TVNZ also argued that the refusal of a major participant to contribute to a story dealing with an issue of public interest could not of itself force the abandonment of the story.

[26] Turning to the complaint that only part of the lawyer’s statement was read on air, followed by the presenter’s “John Mitchell like” comment, TVNZ maintained that the key part of the statement was broadcast. That was that Mr Mirica had instructed his lawyer not to comment in view of the Disputes Tribunal claims. In concluding that Standard 4 had not been breached, TVNZ wrote in its letter to Mr Mirica’s lawyer:

Mr Mirica had an opportunity to respond to the issues raised in this item. He chose not to accept that opportunity. He did not request any further time to respond. He instructed his lawyer to issue a statement, the substance of which was broadcast.

In reference to your comments about it not being appropriate for a full statement to be made until the Disputes Tribunal completed its work, the [complaints] committee believed that you would have known that the Tribunal would not have been influenced by the airing of this issue in the media. This was not a case where there can be any suggestion of there being real risk of prejudice to any fair trial rights.

[27] TVNZ dealt with the alleged inaccuracies in some detail. It pointed out that Mr Mirica was the sole director and shareholder of Network Visa NZ Ltd. It contended:

The Romanians were relying on Mr Mirica and trusted him. Each paid him a large sum of money having been led to believe by Mr Mirica that they could secure a student visa, learn English, obtain a job and then in all probability obtain permanent residency here. However the single purpose visa which Mr Mirica accepted on their behalf was solely for the purpose of completing a six month English language course, and no more. Obviously what had been represented to the thirteen Romanians was the promise of a new life in New Zealand, after the life they had given up in Romania. The students had made payments to Mr Mirica after the visas had been accepted on their behalf. They had no option but to accept what had taken place.

[28] In view of the Disputes Tribunal hearings, TVNZ did not accept the contention that Mr Mirica had offered a refund to students if they were not happy with the visas they had received. Further, TVNZ understood that Mr Mirica had not attended the hearings and had been ordered to pay each student $7500 forthwith, which was the extent of the Tribunal’s jurisdiction.

[29] TVNZ insisted that the students had been verbally promised a “new life” by Mr Mirica and described the presenter’s comment about immigration consultants as the expression of an honest opinion which was echoed by the Minister of Immigration and another consultant interviewed on the item.

[30] On the basis that some of the 13 students had not sold a home in Romania prior to coming to New Zealand, TVNZ accepted that it was not appropriate for the item to have said that they all had done so:

But they all cashed up their life savings, and some borrowed money from family and friends, and still others had family members sell their houses. Mr Mirica charged $11,000 for his services to each student – a sum which is the equivalent of about two years’ salary in Romania.

[31] Pointing out that Mr Mirica was both a truck driver and immigration consultant, TVNZ argued that neither occupation had been treated unfairly. The point was, it wrote, that Mr Mirica devoted only part-time attention to his immigration consultancy, and it declined to uphold the complaint.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant – Holmes 11 February 2004

[32] TVNZ said that the main purpose of the item was to find out why the Associate Minister was taking so long to rule on the applications. It then dealt with the complaint as follows.

[33] In regard to the distinction between Mr Mirica and Network Visas, TVNZ repeated that he was the sole director and the Disputes Tribunal had stated:

The Tribunal finds that Network Visas Limited, represented by its sole director Florea Mirica, had failed in its duties and obligations under the contract.

[34] TVNZ said that at the time of the broadcast none of the Romanians was aware that an appeal had been lodged. The message from Mr Mirica’s solicitor, it was noted, was received after the broadcast.

[35] The Disputes Tribunal, TVNZ wrote, considered that Mr Mirica had misrepresented the type of visas granted. Further, the Tribunal had ordered the payment of the awards within 48 hours and as the Romanians were not aware of the appeal, a comment about the lack of payment was appropriate.

[36] Turning to the standards, TVNZ denied that the broadcast had breached the requirements for balance, accuracy or fairness. As for balance, TVNZ reiterated that the intention of the item was to ask some “searching questions” of the Associate Minister, while it was also appropriate to remind viewers what the case was all about.

Referral to Broadcasting Standards Authority – Holmes 18 and 19 November 2003

[37] The complainant focused on four main points when he referred the standards complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[38] Dealing first with what he described as the inadequate opportunity he had been given to respond to the complaint, Mr Mirica pointed, first, to the total amount involved in the Disputes Tribunal claims and, secondly, to the reporter’s opening question to him which, he said, was “Are you still considering residency in New Zealand?”. That indicated that he was not going to be given a fair opportunity to respond.

[39] Further, given the competitive nature of the immigration industry, Mr Mirica questioned whether the consultant interviewed, Mr Malcolm, was going to be impartial. His lawyer wrote:

It should have been evident to the Holmes show reporter that the students had waited until the end of the six months before making the Disputes Tribunal claims and approaching the Holmes show. If they had taken these actions at the beginning of their stay, there would have been ample time to allow our client to respond but this would have defeated a bid for public sympathy and the sense of urgency so that the usual processes were more likely to be put aside.

[40] As Mr Mirica wanted to resolve the Disputes Tribunal hearings first, his lawyer continued, it was inaccurate to state that he had not sought an extension of time. As the Tribunal decided it had jurisdiction to deal with the claims, it was not possible to let Holmes have the material being gathered.

[41] The complainant advised that the Disputes Tribunal decisions had been appealed and one ground was that “political interference and the airing of the Holmes show may have influenced the referee”.

[42] The complainant repeated that Holmes failed to distinguish between the company, Network Visas NZ Ltd, and himself.

[43] In dealing with the central matters, Mr Mirica wrote:

It is correct that the company accepted the limited purpose visas on behalf of its clients, the Romanian students. There is a volume of email exchanges between the company and its clients demonstrating that the students were informed and fully aware of the visa limitations. The type of visa was stamped on each passport. The students knew that they could not work in New Zealand. They knew in applying for student visas that they could not remain in New Zealand. There was no misunderstanding here or failure to give the students the required information – neither type of visa was an application for residency or work visa. The students had each represented to NZ Immigration that they were coming to New Zealand to study English and would then be returning to Romania… .

The students did have options available other than to proceed with the single use visas. They could have asked for a refund, which at least one of the original group did. They could have reapplied for a work visa or residency visa, and again one of the original group has proceeded to do so. They did not have to continue their plans to come to New Zealand and the email exchanges set this out clearly.

[44] With reference to truck driving, Mr Mirica said that he held a university diploma in finance and accounting and had three years experience in that type of work. The need to supplement his income, he wrote, should not have been represented as impacting on his professional qualifications and experience.

Referral to Broadcasting Standards Authority – Holmes 11 February 2004

[45] The complainant focused on the following matters.

  • TVNZ, it was said, could not ignore the distinction between Mr Mirica and the company which was a separate legal identity. The company had signed the contracts and dealt with the Immigration Service.
  • Some checking would have disclosed that the appeals had been filed on 10 February, the day before the broadcast.
  • On the other two points, the complainant maintained that the standards had been breached, as TVNZ was aware that the Romanians’ version of events had been challenged.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[46] TVNZ said it had nothing further to add to its responses. It noted that if the appeal was successful, then it was probable that such an outcome would be reported.

Further Correspondence

[47] In the item broadcast on 18 November 2003, the presenter said that the Romanian students had been told that, with a student visa, they could while in New Zealand “start looking for a job, and maybe permanent residency”. In his complaint, Mr Mirica stated that there were emails between Network Visas and its clients from which the Romanians knew they could neither work nor remain in New Zealand. The Authority sought and obtained the (translated) emails.

[48] The Authority later sought a copy of the Disputes Tribunal decisions, and an outline of the issues on which the appeal was based. The complainant provided a copy of the contracts, the Disputes Tribunal rulings, the appeals, the referee’s report and Mr Mirica’s affidavit to the Tribunal. The Authority also obtained the decision of the District Court on the appeals from the Disputes Tribunal’s decisions.

[49] TVNZ contended that the email correspondence appeared to support the information in the broadcasts. TVNZ pointed to specific statements which referred to finding work and, on one occasion, applying for a work permit when work was found.

[50] Upon receipt of the contracts, the rulings and the appeal, TVNZ again submitted that the documents reinforced what was said in the broadcasts. It continued:

However we are concerned that with all the paperwork which is accumulating, the enquiry may be getting away from the basic point that the programmes were based on. That is that the Romanian students said that Mr Mirica verbally promised them a new life. They say that he told them that if they got a job offer, this would mean they could stay in New Zealand. In short, secure a student visa, learn English, start looking for a job, get a job, and permanent residency would, in all probability, follow from that. This is regardless of what the actual contracts said. In other words what the written contract says may not truly represent the reality of what took place between Mr Mirica and the students.

[51] In response, the complainant said that there was no evidence of any verbal contract. Rather, before the Disputes Tribunal and on appeal, the students had argued that they were not informed of the difference between a study visa and limited purpose study visa before they left Romania. As the Disputes Tribunal Referee had agreed that was the issue, the complainant commented:

TVNZ appears to be formulating its own argument which is not based on the facts.

[52] TVNZ disagreed in its reply, and advised that it had again confirmed with the Romanians that Mr Mirica gave a verbal promise to them to provide work visas when they arrived in New Zealand. The Authority accepted TVNZ’s offer to provide copies of the emails from Mr Mirica to the students in which, it was said, he had reiterated that promise.

Complainant’s Final Comments

[53] In his final comment, Mr Mirica focused on extracts from the emails to the students which TVNZ had contended supported the information contained in the broadcasts. Mr Mirica provided contextual information, and argued that the comments supported his contention that there was no promise of work. As for TVNZ’s argument in regard to a verbal contract, he wrote:

… how can anybody imagine that we signed a written contract for specific services as stated in obligations of Network Visas stipulated in contracts and made a “verbal contract” promising a work permit… when, as stated in the written contracts and in e-mail correspondence we underlined that we cannot help with jobs and not engaged to do this (you cannot have a work permit if you do not have a job!). The students already provided written statements regarding our contracts: the written contracts themselves.

[54] Mr Mirica acknowledged that his complaint would be baseless if any of the students could provide evidence that he had promised jobs or work permits. Otherwise, he was expecting a quick decision.
Further Information Provided to the Authority

[55] In support of its contention that Mr Mirica had promised to provide work permits when the Romanians arrived in New Zealand, TVNZ supplied the Authority with contracts signed by some of the students which, it said, indicated that the students thought they were applying for a student visa, whereas they were issued with a Limited Purpose Visa. TVNZ also supplied a translated version of a joint declaration signed by each student in which they wrote in paragraphs 4 and 5:

4. As we did not wish to travel to New Zealand for the sole purpose of studying English, and as it was our intention to seek employment in New Zealand, this advice [the preparation of applications for study] was queried.

5. Mr Mirica advised that study visas were appropriate, that we could on a full-time basis seek employment, that there existed no obligation to attend study classes, and that employment in New Zealand was plentiful and easy to secure.

[56] The Romanians insisted that they had been deceived and misled by Mr Mirica.

[57] In his reply, Mr Mirica maintained that he had provided the services regarding visas which he had promised to provide. Despite TVNZ’s offer of evidence, he pointed out that there had been no evidence provided to justify the claims made during the programme and contained in the declaration that the Romanians would be able, while holding a student visa, to seek employment and perhaps apply for residency. Their current claims against him, he contended, were part of their devious scheme “to remain legally in New Zealand”.

[58] Mr Mirica also supplied a copy of the District Court interim judgment which, he wrote, was not relevant to his complaints. He sought urgent resolution of his complaints in order to start action against those who he believed had defamed and damaged him.

[59] In its decision, the District Court adjourned the appeal while further information was obtained about the Referee’s decision in the Disputes Tribunal.

[60] TVNZ later provided the Authority with copies of the emails exchanged between Mr Mirica and some of the students before their arrival in New Zealand. One read:

How is your English preparation? If this might be a problem for you, we can resolve it as follows:

1. You come to NZ with a 3-month study visa/English courses and we apply for residency, being in New Zealand, after sitting the IELTS, here.

2. You come to NZ with a 3-month visa, you find a job, we make a work permit, you stay one year on a work permit, and we open the application for permanent residency after the year, in this particular case it’s not necessary to pass the IELTS (if you had worked for 12 months you are exempted from IELTS); you may bring your family, on work permits as well.

Write me and I’ll send you more details if you are interested in any of these options (the costs are not that high taking into account that you may [sic] something to work during the courses).

Talk to you later.

[61] Mr Mirica described the above as merely an “informative” email, explaining to one of the applicants what the possibilities of becoming a New Zealand citizen were.

Authority’s Determination

[62] In October 2004, the Authority was advised that Mr Mirica had initiated defamation proceedings against TVNZ. Pursuant to a High Court ruling, the Authority has been directed not to issue a decision on a complaint if, during its deliberations, defamation proceedings are issued and there is a possibility of a jury trial. Accordingly, the Authority deferred issuing its decision until advised, in March 2005, that the defamation proceedings had been discontinued.

[63] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the items complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

[64] The Authority has received extensive submissions from the complainant in support of his contention that the items on Holmes on 18 and 19 November 2003 and 11 February 2004 were unbalanced and inaccurate, and dealt with him unfairly. The submissions include a number of translated emails between Mr Mirica (on behalf of Network Visas NZ Ltd) and the Romanians who came to New Zealand, before the Romanians left Romania. A translated copy of the standard contract signed by each of the complainants was also provided.

[65] Mr Mirica was adamant that his company did not guarantee his clients a work permit in New Zealand. That was the central point to his complaint and, he contended, the items were inaccurate when they said that he had done so. His complaints, he wrote, would be baseless if any of the Romanians could provide evidence that he had promised work permits or jobs.

[66] The Authority agrees that the written material does not disclose that Mr Mirica promised either a work permit or a job. However, it does not accept that his complaints have thus been substantiated.

Privacy (Standard 3)

[67] Mr Mirica alleged that the item on 18 November contravened his privacy by showing his home. In response, TVNZ said that the home was the address given for Network Visas on its website. It also argued that footage of the house was included in the public interest.

[68] Because the address had been published by Network Visas on its website, the Authority does not accept that the address was a private fact to which Standard 3 applies. Accordingly, the Authority does not uphold the privacy complaint.

Balance (Standard 4)

[69] News and other factual programmes dealing with controversial issues of public importance are required to present significant points of view within the same programme or during the period of current interest. The Authority accepts that the plight of the Romanians was a controversial issue to which the standard applied. Mr Mirica complained that he was not given an adequate opportunity to respond to the item on 18 November. The Authority does not agree. First, Mr Mirica provided a written response, through his lawyer, and part of that response was read during the item. The part of the response read explained the reasons why Mr Mirica declined to address the substance of the issues raised by the students (the forthcoming Disputes Tribunal hearings) and accordingly conveyed his point of view sufficiently insofar as he was prepared to express it at that time.

[70] Secondly, Mr Mirica objected to the way in which the response was described by the presenter. The Authority notes that while the presenter’s comment did imply that Mr Mirica was being media-shy, the comment did not detract from the meaning or effect of the part of the statement that was read out. For these reasons, the Authority concludes that the item on 19 November was sufficiently balanced.

[71] Mr Mirica complained that the item on 11 February 2004 was unbalanced as he was not given an opportunity to respond. The Authority agrees with TVNZ that in view of the material contained in the item, it was not necessary to seek a reply from Mr Mirica. The focus of the February item was on why the Associate Minister of Immigration had not yet reached a decision on the Romanians’ applications for visas following their success before the Disputes Tribunal.

[72] Mr Mirica pointed out that the February item did not advise viewers that the Disputes Tribunal’s rulings were the subject of appeal. However, the Authority considers that such information was peripheral to the focus of the item and had it been relevant to the Associate Minister’s decision, he could have referred to it. Having examined the matters raised, the Authority concludes that the broadcasts did not breach Standard 4.

Accuracy (Standard 5)

[73] Mr Mirica contended that the items were inaccurate in a number of ways. Most of the points dealt in some way with the issue of visas.

[74] The item reported that Mr Mirica would assist the Romanians to apply for a short term study visa. During that period they were told by Mr Mirica that they could apply for a job and provided a job offer was obtained, and provided they had obtained the necessary English qualifications, they could make an application for residency.

[75] Mr Mirica, the Authority observes, did not promise the Romanians a new life. Rather, he raised the possibility of a new life provided a number of matters fell into place. The (translated) contract with each student recorded that it was Network Visa’s obligation to complete a “Residence Application”, to assist with the “Job Offer” procedure and submit all the relevant documentation to the Immigration Service for approval. As the (translated) email to one applicant explained:

… the offered package does not mean that residence visas are granted. It is required that each one of you to get involved in the finding of a job offer (we will give you all our support but we cannot find you a job, you have to look for it and go for interviews…) (in 5 months there is more than sufficient time, only who does not really want it will not find it.).

[76] The above comments also capture the tenor of the emails dated March–June 2003 between Mr Mirica and a number of the Romanians as they made arrangements to travel to New Zealand.

[77] The papers then include an email from the London Office of the NZ Immigration Service dated 26 June 2003 in which Mr Mirica of Network Visas was advised that the named applicants had been offered a “Limited Purpose Visa”

… to complete their course of indicated study with the understanding that they will not be eligible to remain in New Zealand or apply for additional visas at this time to continue studying after the course.

[78] The Authority observes that a “Limited Purpose Visa” is confined to one visit for a prearranged purpose. It does not enable the recipient to extend the study course, let alone seek to change the type of visa held. These visas, the Authority notes, were authorised on 26 June, less than three weeks before the Romanians intended departure on 14 July.

[79] Mr Mirica maintained that the Romanians were advised that while their applications had been for study visas, with the possibilities he had put forward (see paras [74] and [75]), he had “fully explained to them, by face-to-face meetings” before they travelled to New Zealand the restrictions which applied to the Limited Purpose Visas offered.

[80] Mr Mirica submitted two notarised statements to confirm that he had explained the restrictions. One (translated) statement said:

I underline that I was present at all meetings that Mr Florea Mirica had with every customers (in June and July) and I assisted to the several phone talks held. Both at the phone and, especially face to face, using even a pencil and paper, drawing his explanations, in order to be sure that was made himself clear enough, Mr Florea Mirica used to explain to every customer the conditions and limitations of the study visa type, approved for them by NZIS (Limited Purpose Study Visa), telling them they would have all the money paid back, on site. Three of them gave up and other fourteen accepted it.

[81] The other perspective was put in a statement signed by 13 Romanians which said they had wanted to work in New Zealand. They had sought Mr Mirica’s advice and:

Mr Mirica advised that he could, on our behalf, prepare applications to study in New Zealand.
As we did not wish to travel to New Zealand for the sole purpose of studying English, and as it was our intention to seek employment in New Zealand, this advice was queried.

Mr Mirica advised that study visas were appropriate, that we could on a full-time basis seek employment, that there existed no obligation to attend study classes, and that employment in New Zealand was plentiful and easy to secure.

We all signed individual contracts for study visas and paid to Network Visas (NZ) Limited – by instalments – the fee of US$5,500.00. This fee encompassed study and accommodation fees, and stipulated a consulting fee of $US$1,200.00.

We each obtained Limited Purpose Permits from the New Zealand Immigration Service (NZIS), and journeyed to New Zealand.

[82] On their arrival in New Zealand, they continued, they were told by the Director of the Bible College (Alison Matai’a), where they were staying, of the conditions of the visas. They added:

We were shocked, upset, and in disbelief at the situation which we found ourselves. We wanted to confront Mr Mirica as it was apparent that we have been grossly misadvised.

A meeting was organised with ourselves, Alison Matai’a, and Mr Florea Mirica in attendance. Mr Mirica acknowledged and admitted that he had withheld the Bible College “information pack” from each of us. He further admitted withholding from us the NZIS letters explaining the limitations of Limited Purpose Visas and Permits.

[83] The Authority acknowledges the stark difference in the submissions it has received. Nevertheless, its task is not to rule on the dispute between the parties. That matter has been before the Disputes Tribunal and, on appeal, to the District Court. The Tribunal ruled that the Romanians had been misled and the appeal was dismissed. The Authority’s task is to resolve the complaints from Mr Mirica that the items were inaccurate. The item broadcast on 18 November said that Mr Mirica had told the Romanians that they could come to New Zealand on a student visa, start looking for a job and maybe obtain permanent residency. However, the item added, Mr Mirica did not tell them that they only had a Limited Purpose Visa until they arrived in New Zealand.

[84] Mr Mirica has produced sworn statements in support of his contention that the Romanians were told of the restricted conditions of the Limited Purpose Visa but came to New Zealand nevertheless. The Romanians have made a joint declaration that they were not aware of the restrictions until they arrived in New Zealand. The item accepted the Romanians’ argument. The Disputes Tribunal has also accepted their statements.

[85] In view of the emails which it has read, the Authority has no doubt that the Romanians were expecting to receive a study visa, not a Limited Purpose Visa, and had made their plans on that basis.

[86] The item did not say that the Romanians would be able to work on their arrival in New Zealand, and the Authority accepts that Mr Mirica did not tell the Romanians that this was so. However, they were told that if certain conditions were fulfilled, which required action on their part and were not particularly onerous, they would be able to obtain work visas. That did not take place.

[87] While the Authority accepts that Mr Mirica did not promise the Romanians a new life, it concludes that he did allow them to dream that a new life was a distinct possibility. The Authority does not accept that the item was inaccurate on this point.

[88] Mr Mirica also contended that the Romanians had not been truthful with TVNZ and, indeed, had devised a scheme to obtain residency in New Zealand. While it is for the courts to rule on the disagreements between the parties, the Authority has examined, to the extent that it is able, whether the specific comments in the item, to which Mr Mirica took objection, were factually accurate. It has not found any of the complaints which alleged factual inaccuracy to be substantiated.

[89] Mr Mirica contended that the item was inaccurate when it failed to distinguish clearly between his company, Network Visas NZ Ltd, with whom the Romanians were dealing, and himself. The Authority does not find the item to be inaccurate on this point.

[90] First, it was made quite clear in the item that Network Visas was the organisation with which the Romanians were communicating. It was also made clear that Mr Mirica was the face of the company and the person with whom the Romanians were dealing. TVNZ pointed out that Mr Mirica is the company’s sole director and shareholder. The Authority accepts that the item, once it had made clear that it was the company with whom the Romanians were liaising, was entitled to treat Mr Mirica and Network Visas as interchangeable.

[91] The item on 18 November included some footage of civil disturbance in Romania and suggested that it related to the Romanian revolution. In response to Mr Mirica’s complaint that it showed strife in later years, TVNZ acknowledged that it was footage of anti-government protestors objecting to the actions of the new government.

[92] Because the footage shown was only incidental to the story being discussed, the Authority does not consider that the pictures used created a substantially misleading impression, and did not impact on the thrust of the issues under discussion. For this reason, the Authority does not consider that the footage was misleading.

[93] The core of the accuracy complaints is the statement made by the reporter in the item broadcast on 18 November that Mr Mirica did not tell the Romanians, until they had arrived in New Zealand, that he had accepted a Limited Purpose Visa on their behalf when the previous discussions had related to a student visa and the possibilities which followed. Whereas a student visa raised the possibility of residency in due course, a Limited Purpose Visa allows a visit for a designated reason and provides no opportunity for an extension or applying for an alternative visa. Mr Mirica argued that the Romanians were advised of the restricted visa before they left Romania. The Disputes Tribunal and the District Court on appeal accepted the Romanians’ account that they were not so advised. The Authority has been provided with no reason to depart from the findings in those decisions. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold any aspect of the complaints alleging inaccuracy from Network Visas Ltd and Florea Mirica.

Fairness (Standard 6)

[94] The Authority does not accept, as Mr Mirica stated, that the item on 18 November encouraged the denigration of or discrimination against truck drivers or immigration consultants. The Authority does accept that the item asked questions about the reliability of some immigration consultants, during the interview with the then Minister of Immigration. While the item made clear to viewers that care should be taken when using an immigration consultant, it did not encourage the denigration of any group of people.

Summary

[95] Finally, given the information before us, the Authority is not persuaded that any elements of the complaints should be upheld.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaints.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
31 March 2005

Appendix

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

Privacy Complaint – 18 November 2003

  1. Florea Mirica’s Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 15 December 2003
  2. Television New Zealand Ltd’s Response to the Authority – 2 February 2004
  3. Mr Mirica’s Final Comment – 13 June 2004

Standards Complaint – 18 and 19 March 2003

  1. Florea Mirica’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 15 December 2003
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Complainant – 3 February 2004
  3. Mr Mirica’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 27 February 2004
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 16 March 2004
  5. Mr Mirica’s Letter providing copies of email correspondence – 23 April 2004
  6. Mr Mirica’s Letter providing contracts, Dispute Tribunal rulings, and appeals – 7 May 2004
  7. TVNZ’s Response to email correspondence – 7 May 2004
  8. TVNZ’s Response to rulings – 13 May 2004
  9. Mr Mirica’s Response – 22 May 2004
  10. TVNZ’s Response – 28 May 2004
  11. Mr Mirica’s Final Comment – 13 June 2004

Standards Complaint – 11 February 2004

  1. Florea Mirica’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 8 March 2004
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Complainant – 19 April 2004
  3. Mr Mirica’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 14 May 2004
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 24 May 2004
  5. Mr Mirica’s Final Comment – 13 June 2004

Further Correspondence

  1. TVNZ’s Submission (plus attachments) – 16 June 2004
  2. Mr Mirica’s Response – 22 June 2004
  3. Mr Mirica’s Submission (plus attachments) – 27 June 2004
  4. Mr Mirica’s Submission (plus attachments) – 12 July 2004
  5. Mr Mirica’s Letter – 4 August 2004
  6. TVNZ’s Submission (plus attachments) – 4 August 2004
  7. Mr Mirica’s response – 10 August 2004
  8. Mr Mirica’s Further Submission (plus attachments) – 16 August 2004
  9. Mr Mirica’s Submission – 18 August 2004
  10. Mr Mirica’s Submission – 23 August 2004
  11. TVNZ’s Advice regarding proceedings issued by Complainant – 5 October 2004
  12. Mr Mirica’s comment regarding proceedings – 11 October 2004
  13. Authority’s advice to Parties regarding defamation – 19 October 2004
  14. Copy of Mr Mirica’s advice to TVNZ that jury not sought – 6 December 2004
  15. TVNZ’s advice that security for costs is first issue – 13 December 2004
  16. Mr Mirica’s advice that he has discontinued claim against TVNZ – received 9 March 2005
  17. TVNZ’s confirmation that proceedings discontinued – 9 March 2005