BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

O'Connor and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-155

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Ken O'Connor
Number
2010-155
Programme
One News Tonight
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News Tonight – item reported on deaths of two people involved in a police pursuit – stated that 10 people in 2010 had died “as a result of patrol car pursuits” – allegedly in breach of accuracy and fairness standards

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – item did not state that police were responsible for the deaths – viewers would have understood the meaning of the reporter’s statement – not inaccurate or misleading – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – item was straightforward news report – no judgement was made about the actions of the police involved in the pursuits – not unfair to the police – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]   An item on One News Tonight, broadcast on TV One at 10.30pm on 17 September 2010, reported on the deaths of two people involved in a police pursuit. The presenter introduced the item, saying:

We begin tonight with reports of yet another fatal police chase. Ten people have so far died this year as a result of patrol car pursuits. Tonight in Auckland that grim toll has grown.

[2]   A reporter then stated in a live cross:

What we know so far is two people are dead after this latest chase and two have been taken to Auckland Hospital – now they’re in a critical condition. It happened around 9pm this evening in Onehunga, near Dress Smart. Now witnesses say they saw the car being chased by an unmarked police vehicle. The vehicles were estimated to have been doing over 100 [kilometres per hour] in a 50[km] area.

[3]   One of the witnesses was interviewed by telephone and his account of the scene was broadcast. The reporter then continued:

Now we’ve been on the phones all night with police for comment. So far they aren’t commenting but we will keep you updated on this  developing story as soon as we have fresh information.

Complaint

[4]   Ken O’Connor made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was inaccurate and unfair to the police because “the deaths have occurred due to people failing to stop for police when signalled to,” not as the result of police pursuits, and in the item “the problem appears to be caused by the police”. He considered that “blame should not be attributed... to any parties until after the outcome of any inquiries [has] been released”.  

Standards

[5]   Standards 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. Mr O’Connor also nominated guidelines 5c, 6b and 6f to those standards. These provide:

Standard 5 Accuracy

Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:

  • is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or
  • does not mislead.

Guideline 5c

News must be impartial.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guidelines

6b   Broadcasters should exercise care in editing programme material to ensure that the extracts used are not a distortion of the original event or the overall views expressed.

6f    Where the programme deals with distressing circumstances (e.g. grief and bereavement) discretion and sensitivity are expected.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   Looking at accuracy, TVNZ argued that, “It is a sad fact that at the time this item went to air there had been 10 deaths [in 2010] to date, of people involved in police pursuits. There is no blame or judgement to either party involved in the pursuits in reporting this fact. While the police pursuits may have been called off in some instances it is still a fact that at some point, police had been involved.” The broadcaster maintained that the items “simply reported that police had been involved in a pursuit”, and that there was no agenda to apportion blame on the police.

[7]   TVNZ therefore concluded that the items were not misleading or inaccurate and declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

[8]   For the same reasons, the broadcaster did not consider that the item was unfair to police. It argued that the item reported on breaking news and was brief. TVNZ was of the view that it was fair to mention that the vehicle involved in the accident had been involved in a police chase that evening. It reiterated that “no blame or judgement is apportioned in this reporting” and declined to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[9]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr O’Connor referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that Standards 5 and 6 were breached because the deaths were not the result of patrol car pursuits, but of the driver’s actions after being signalled to stop by police. He reiterated his view that the items were unfair because “the responsibility seems to be with the police pursuing, not the driver fleeing”. Mr O’Connor considered that only facts should be reported, without placing blame or responsibility on either party.

Authority's Determination

[10]   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 (accuracy)

[11]   Standard 5 states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. Mr O’Connor argued that the item was inaccurate because “the deaths have occurred due to people failing to stop for police when signalled to,” not due to the police’s actions.

[12]   In our view, the phrase, “as a result of patrol car pursuits” in the presenter’s introduction did not suggest that police were responsible for the deaths. We consider that viewers would have understood the statement to be straightforward reporting of the fact that, so far, during police car pursuits in 2010, 10 people had died.

[13]   Accordingly, we find that the item was not inaccurate or misleading, and we decline to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[14]   Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. Mr O’Connor argued that the item was unfair because “the problem appears to be caused by the police”.

[15]   As discussed above in paragraph [12], we are of the view that the item contained no judgement of the actions of either the police or the people being pursued, and that the introduction did not imply that the police were responsible for the 10 deaths.

[16]   Accordingly, we do not consider that the broadcaster treated police unfairly, and we decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
22 February 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Ken O’Connor’s formal complaint – 21 September 2010

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 22 October 2010

3                 Mr O’Connor’s referral to the Authority – 7 November 2010

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 23 December 2010