BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Molan and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-126

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Dr Peter Molan
Number
2009-126
Programme
Close Up
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – item on the manuka honey industry – investigated claims that some manuka honey producers were misleading consumers by putting false information on their labels – allegedly in breach of controversial issues standard

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  An item on Close Up, broadcast at 7pm on Wednesday 5 August 2009, investigated whether claims made on manuka honey labels could be backed up by tests. The presenter introduced the item by saying:

They call it liquid gold. It’s one of our fastest export success stories, but tonight we rip the lid off an industry rife with false claims, with deceit. Jars of active manuka honey are being sold overseas for up to $200 a pop, but claims on the jar often fail to match what’s inside. That $200 jar may be only worth ten bucks and that means huge profits for unscrupulous producers. Active manuka honey is prized for its unique anti-bacterial activity. It’s used in wound healing and to help with digestive problems.

[2]   The item began with comment from John Rawcliffe of the Active Manuka Honey Association (AMHA), who said that “significant volumes of product” were not “true to label”. This was followed by comment from a private investigator, Craig Turley, that “This particular industry is the worst I have seen”.

[3]   The reporter said, “It’s a mix of fakes, feuds and infighting brought on by the huge profits this special honey can make. Honey so valuable they call it liquid gold.”

[4]   Different sale prices for the same product were then described and an explanation about the term Unique Manuka Factor (UMF), which related to a special anti-bacterial property, was given.

[5]   The reporter detailed the “sting in the tail” of the honey industry, saying that there was a history of court convictions, private investigators, claims and counter-claims that had afflicted the industry in New Zealand.

[6]   The reporter stated that she was going to put Mr Rawcliffe’s claim that false labelling was rife to the test. She was shown walking with Mr Rawcliffe into a shop that sold active manuka honey products.

[7]   The reporter selected ten products in total; six were jars of honey and four were cosmetic products. The reporter said that the products had been sent to certified labs for testing, saying that one method tested for UMF and another for a special anti-bacterial agent. She stated that Close Up had carried out both tests on all the selected products, because the industry had been “rowing about” which of the two tests was best.   

[8]   The reporter said the tests for the cosmetics “don’t even work” and that it could not be proved whether they contained active manuka honey. With respect to the six jars of honey, she stated that four had passed the test and two had failed. The brands of honey that failed were shown and the reporter told viewers that she had tried to contact the companies, but had received no response. Mr Rawcliffe then stated that he believed that these companies were “ripping off the New Zealand industry”.

[9]   The item then returned to the studio, where the presenter interviewed Mr Rawcliffe about the members of his association, the industry as a whole and what was being done to deal with false and misleading manuka honey labelling.             

Complaint

[10]   Dr Peter Molan, a honey expert, made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item had breached Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints).

[11]   Dr Molan argued that the accuracy of the claims contained on the labels of manuka honey was a highly controversial issue and that Close Up had given a “completely one-sided picture of the situation”.

[12]   The complainant considered that the reporter had been captured by a commercial organisation promoting its products over those of competitors “in the guise of it being something in the public interest”. He stated that, “A little bit of research on the internet or a few minutes on the phone to me would have revealed that this was being done”.

[13]   Dr Molan contended that there were major and minor sellers of genuine active manuka honey who were not using the “UMF rating” and did not have “UMF” on their labelling. He said it seemed that Close Up’s reporter had been guided towards certain products and away from others. He also believed that the reporter had been dissuaded from getting information from him directly.

Standards

[14]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. It provides:

Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[15]   TVNZ stated that, before considering a complaint under Standard 4, it first had to determine whether the item complained about discussed a controversial issue of public importance.

[16]   The broadcaster acknowledged that the issues surrounding the accuracy of honey labelling were controversial within the honey-making industry, but argued that it was not one of “public importance”.

[17]   TVNZ stated that it had presented the item as one of public interest. It said Close Up’s focus was on making a consumer-friendly item on whether claims on honey jars were being met and how the lack of regulation in the honey industry was leading to consumers being misinformed about the properties of the honey they were purchasing. 

[18]   The broadcaster said that the honey industry was divided and that there was much argument within the industry over the most effective testing methods for the active ingredient in manuka honey. It stated that, “rather than get bogged down in that debate, Close Up utilised both testing methods and reported on the results to expose honey being sold with false labels”. The broadcaster contended that the item was “not out to get any company or product in particular”, but was interested in looking at the problems with false claims on labels.

[19]   TVNZ said that Close Up did not dispute that there were some companies selling genuine manuka honey that did not have UMF on the label, but argued that this was not the point of the item. It considered that the item was “specifically about whether claims on the labels could be backed up by commonly used tests”.

[20]   The broadcaster contended that it had taken particular care in its presentation of the issue and said that it had spoken to a number of honey producers and had invited several companies to comment, but they declined. It denied that anyone had dissuaded its reporter from speaking with Dr Molan and said that “the PR person from Manuka Health made a particular effort to persuade her to speak with [Dr Molan] on the grounds that [he] could go into depth about the different testing systems available”. TVNZ stated that its producer had decided that the testing methods were not going to be the focus of the item and that she did not want to go into the specifics of various testing systems. 

[21]   The broadcaster reiterated its contention that the issue of labelling on honey jars was not a controversial issue of public importance and that it did not need to interview Dr Molan or convey his viewpoint. TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4.

Referral to the Authority

[22]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Dr Molan referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[23]   The complainant reiterated his argument that the item had discussed a controversial issue of public importance.

[24]   Dr Molan contended that the item was “extremely misleading because the researchers for Close Up failed to do the most basic research and understand the different types of activity in manuka honey”. He considered that TVNZ had only presented Mr Rawcliffe’s opinion, “who was pushing the message that consumers should buy honey from AMHA members to ensure that they did not get sold honey that did not contain UMF activity”.  

[25]   He reiterated his argument that, “There was no presentation whatsoever of significant points of view from the other side of the industry in this controversial issue”.

Authority's Determination

[26]   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.

[27]   Standard 4 requires broadcasters to make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes.

[28]   The Authority has previously said that Standard 4 exists primarily for the benefit of the listening or viewing public (see, for example, Benson-Pope and Radio New Zealand1). In Kiro and RadioWorks Ltd2, the Authority said:

What is important in Standard 4 is how the audience perceives the discussion.

[29]   In this instance, the Authority considers that the item complained about did not purport to provide a complete and balanced examination of the problems within the honey industry. Rather, it simply sought to alert viewers to the fact that some honey producers were labelling their products as containing a special component associated with manuka honey when they did not.

[30]   The Authority perceives that the complainant’s main concern about the item was that one force within the industry was given inappropriate prominence and credibility over another. However, rather than focussing on specific details about honey labelling and different viewpoints on those issues, the item made the general point that labelling of manuka honey was not always accurate. 

[31]   The Authority considers that viewers would have readily understood that the brief current affairs item was not outlining every perspective on or problem within the honey industry. Accordingly, it finds that the way in which the issue was raised and discussed in the programme did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue as envisaged by Standard 4.

[32]   Accordingly, the Authority concludes that Standard 4 does not apply, and therefore it declines to uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
15 February 2010

Appendix

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

1.           Dr Peter Molan’s formal complaint – 13 August 2009
2.          TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 16 September 2009
3.          Dr Molan’s referral to the Authority – 21 September 2009
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 2 December 2009


1Decision No. 2005-083

2Decision No. 2008-108