BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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O'Neill and TVWorks Ltd - 2009-042

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • C J O'Neill
Number
2009-042
Programme
3 News
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item reported that nine SOEs had paid bonuses to staff in 2008 – two SOEs had not responded to Official Information Act requests from the broadcaster – showed reporter at Ombudsman's office handing over a complaint about the lack of response – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, law and order, balance, accuracy and fairness standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency), Standard 2 (law and order), Standard 4 (balance) and Standard 5 (accuracy) – not applicable – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – no evidence of unfair pressure being placed on Office of the Ombudsman – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on 16 March 2009, reported on the practice and value of performance bonuses being paid to staff working for State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). The presenter introduced the item by saying:

The government wants to end the practice of SOEs paying staff large performance bonuses. It wants SOEs to share the pain of the economic downturn, which has seen private companies reduce pay and do away with bonuses.

[2]  A reporter then discussed the SOE Transpower, and the fact that, although it had admitted performance issues during the year, such as power cuts in Newmarket, the state-owned company awarded staff five million dollars in performance bonuses. The reporter stated that Transpower's CEO had refused to appear on camera and that it "wasn't just 3 News looking for an explanation from all SOEs which paid staff bonuses".

[3]  Cameron Brewer from the Newmarket Business Association was interviewed. He said that the money used by Transpower to pay bonuses should have been put into upgrading the national grid.

[4]  The Minister of SOEs, Simon Power, was shown saying, "What we need to talk to the Chairs about is a range of performance issues across the SOE portfolio, and you can be assured that the issue of bonuses will be raised".

[5]  The reporter then gave bonus payment figures from five SOEs that he had obtained through the Official Information Act. He went on to say that two SOEs, Genesis Power and New Zealand Railway Corporation, had not responded to his Official Information requests, and that the Ombudsman was investigating. Footage was shown of the reporter at the Office of the Ombudsman. Deputy Ombudsman, Leo Donnelly, was shown taking the reporter’s complaint and saying, "Yip, this seems to be a valid complaint, so we will begin the investigation".

[6]  The item ended with the reporter saying:

Power intends on asking the SOEs about their bonus payments when they meet next month. He says he'll remind them they're operating in tough economic times.

Complaint

[7]  C J O'Neill made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item had breached standards of good taste and decency, law and order, balance, accuracy and fairness.

[8]  The complainant noted that the item had included footage of the reporter at the Office of the Ombudsman handing his complaint to the Deputy Ombudsman. He argued that TVWorks was trying to use its "station and standing as a broadcaster to seek favours at the office of the Ombudsman, above that awarded by this office to all other citizens".

[9]  Mr O'Neill considered that, by filming and broadcasting the footage of the reporter handing in his complaint, the broadcaster was attempting to place unfair pressure on the Ombudsman, "under threat of exposure and embarrassment", "to give preference to their complaint" over others.

[10]  The complainant alleged that TVWorks had used the "might of the media to embarrass the Ombudsman into pushing all other complaints back in order to deal firstly with their complaint" and that the broadcaster had "jumped the queue unfairly".

Standards

[11]  Standard 6 of the Free-to Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to the determination of this complaint. It provides:

Standard 6 Fairness

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.

Referral to the Authority

[12]  Having not received a response from TVWorks within the statutory timeframe, Mr O’Neill referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[13]  The broadcaster stated that, due to an administrative error, it had failed to respond to the complainant within the statutory timeframe.

[14]  TVWorks argued that Mr O'Neill's complaint did not raise any issues of broadcasting standards. It said, "Any issue about the speed at which complaints to the Ombudsman's office are dealt with is a matter for that office, not a broadcasting standards issue".

[15]  The broadcaster declined to investigate the complaint.

Complainant's Final Comment

[16]  Mr O'Neill stated that he was not satisfied with TVWorks' response. The complainant argued that he could not find anything in the Broadcasting Act 1989 that allowed a broadcaster to decline to investigate a formal complaint.

Broadcaster's Final Comment

[17]  TVWorks reiterated its view that Mr O'Neill had not raised any issues relating to broadcasting standards.

Authority's Determination

[18]  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.

[19]  In his original complaint, Mr O’Neill alleged that the item had breached standards of good taste and decency, law and order, balance, accuracy and fairness.

[20]  First, the Authority has previously stated (e.g. Decision 2008-080) that Standard 1 (good taste and decency) is primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. The item complained about did not contain any material of this nature.

[21]  Second, the intent behind Standard 2 (law and order) is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers or listeners to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity (see, for example, Decision No. 2005-133). In the Authority’s view, nothing in the One News item could be said to have breached this standard.

[22]  Third, with respect to Standard 4 (balance), the Authority notes that Mr O’Neill’s complaint – that the broadcaster was trying to use its "station and standing as a broadcaster to seek favours at the office of the Ombudsman" – is irrelevant to the question of whether the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant perspectives on the controversial issue under discussion.

[23]  Fourth, Mr O'Neill has not identified any statements of fact in the item which he considers were in breach of Standard 5 (accuracy) and, accordingly, the Authority considers that this standard has no application.

[24]  Finally, having determined that there was no breach of the above standards, the Authority considers that the only point in Mr O’Neill’s complaint that could potentially raise an issue of broadcasting standards was his allegation that the broadcaster had placed unfair pressure on the Office of the Ombudsman to give priority to the reporter’s complaint (Standard 6). However, in the Authority’s view, the footage of the reporter handing his complaint to the Deputy Ombudsman was clearly a staged scene to provide background to the story. The Ombudsman’s Office consented to the filming, and there is no evidence to suggest that the broadcaster's actions placed any pressure on the Ombudsman.

[25]  Accordingly, the Authority finds that the Office of the Ombudsman was not treated unfairly, and it declines to uphold Mr O’Neill’s complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
8 July 2009

Appendix

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

1.         C J O’Neill’s formal complaint – 17 March 2009
2.        Mr O’Neill’s referral to the Authority – 18 April 2009
3.        TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 22 April 2009
4.        Mr O’Neill’s final comment – 1 May 2009
5.        TVWorks’ final comment – 26 May 2009