BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Parker and TVWorks Ltd - 2008-033

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Sean Michael Parker
Number
2008-033
Programme
Target
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1C)(c)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Target – item looked at the business practices of a private chiropractic practice called The Spinal Health Foundation and its resident chiropractor, Dr Sean Parker – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

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

Standard 5 (accuracy) – item did not imply that Dr Parker was offering personal loans to patients or that pre-pay arrangements were unethical – statement relating to possible breaches of ethics was sufficiently qualified – not upheld – decline to determine point relating to changing of paperwork under section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

Standard 6 (fairness) – questions asked of Dr Parker were generic – complainant given adequate opportunity to respond – broadcaster treated Dr Parker fairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Target, broadcast on TV3 at 7.30pm on Tuesday 12 February 2008, looked at a private chiropractic practice called The Spinal Health Foundation (the Foundation) and its resident chiropractor, Dr Sean Parker. The item discussed the experience of Wayne, a man who had sought help from Dr Parker for his back pain and his concerns about the business practices of the Foundation and Dr Parker.

[2]   During the course of the item, the presenter made negative comments about the business practices of the Foundation and Dr Parker asserting that it looked like Dr Parker had breached the Chiropractic Board of New Zealand’s Code of Ethics. 
 
[3]   The item included interviews with Wayne and his wife, who discussed their experience with Dr Parker and the Foundation. Wayne stated that Dr Parker had shown him a DVD that said if a person’s spine was “lined-up” since birth they could live to 120. Wayne also stated that Dr Parker had guaranteed him an extra 10 years of life after having viewed his X-rays.

[4]   Wayne’s wife then explained that after Wayne’s second consultation, Dr Parker wanted Wayne to sign a pre-pay contract for $3,700 for treatment over a six month period. She also stated that Wayne was told that he either had to pay the full amount there and then or he could sign up for finance at reception. Wayne’s wife said that they were shocked about having to pay the full amount straight away and noted that “at no stage did [Dr Parker] say, you know, ‘go away and think about it’ you know. It was push, push, push”. Wayne and his wife then explained that they became suspicious of Dr Parker and decided not to sign up for treatment.     
  
[5]   The item also included an interview with the now former chairman of the Chiropractic Board of New Zealand (the Board), Dr Julian White. During the first part of the interview Dr White made some general comments regarding pre-payment schemes, different types of treatment, and the offering of personal loans to patients by practitioners for treatment. In the second part of the interview, Dr White made comments criticising the advertising material of Dr Parker and the Foundation including a DVD that had been given to Wayne by Dr Parker. He stated that “the most outrageous thing Wayne was told was the fact that a chiropractor can extend his life by 10 years...the phrase ‘he can fix what others can’t’ is a shocker...this chiropractor is a rogue”. Dr White was also critical of the business practices of Dr Parker stating “He’s contravened the Board’s Code of Ethics and with a suitable complaint the Board will pursue this with vigour”.   

Referral to the Authority

[6]   Dr Sean Michael Parker made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair. After not having received a decision on his complaint from the broadcaster within the 20 working day time limit, Dr Parker referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1C)(c)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Accuracy

[7]   The complainant argued that the item contained a number of factual inaccuracies. He maintained that the item was wrong when it stated that he had guaranteed Wayne an extra 10 years of life and contended that the programme’s makers had in their possession a copy of his actual guarantee which said “nothing of the sort”.

[8]   Dr Parker argued that the item had alleged that his treatment programme was “one size fits all” when it had evidence to the contrary. He maintained that Target had made out that all of his patients were offered a six month contract, when in fact “each plan offered to clients is individualised”.

[9]   The complainant contended that the item had emphasised Wayne’s claim that he had been placed under pressure to sign a pre-payment agreement and sign up for finance immediately at reception. He believed that this claim was inaccurate because the item neglected to mention that Wayne had been sent home with the documentation to consider and that “finance, if required, could be obtained but was not provided by me”.

[10]   Dr Parker considered that the item was inaccurate because it did not point out to the public that “the [Chiropractic] Board had done no investigation of its own as to the validity of the allegations made by Target”.   

[11]   With respect to the claims made by Wayne, the complainant argued that Target aired unsubstantiated criticisms as to the effectiveness of the spinal health programme and research without any evidence beyond that given by Wayne and the Board. He maintained that this had made the item inaccurate.

[12]   Dr Parker claimed that the presenter had stated that “the offering of a loan to a patient is wrong”, implying that he was acting in an unethical manner. He argued that it was never established that he had offered any of his patients a loan and that he had only provided them with information on finance being available from a finance company, in which he had no personal involvement.

[13]   The complainant contended that it was inaccurate for Target to imply that “any pre-paid arrangements were unethical” as they were provided for in “the [chiropractors’] Code of Practice and Code of Ethics”.

[14]   Dr Parker alleged that the item was inaccurate because it claimed “there were 16 violations of the Code of Ethics”, but that there was no detail given about most of the supposed breaches. He stated that he had “never been found to have committed any professional wrongdoing of any kind”.

[15]   The complainant believed that the item “implied that Spinal Health does not honour its [money-back] guarantee”, without testing whether it had ever failed to do so.

[16]   The complainant noted that during the item the presenter stated that Dr Parker had contacted the Board and told it he was changing all his paperwork. He maintained that he had never stated to the Board that he was changing his paperwork and that he was “never challenged” about this allegation before the programme went to air.  "

[17]   Referring to Target’s interview with Dr White, the complainant stated that he had contacted the Board and had since received a letter from its lawyers about the interview. He said that the letter stated that “Dr White spoke hypothetically when interviewed by TV3”. Dr Parker believed that viewers had been misled by the item because it was not clear whether Dr White was talking hypothetically or specifically about the business practices of the Foundation and himself.

Balance

[18]   The complainant argued that “no reasonable efforts were made to enable me to present my point of view”. He contended that he had a limited amount of time to reply to generalised questions and that he was given no specifics that would enable him to reply in a meaningful way.

[19]   Dr Parker considered that he was given no warning that the Board was to comment on his performance and that he was not given the opportunity to present his position to the Board. He believed that Target had not been impartial and had acted as “judge, jury and executioner”.

[20]   The complainant considered that his professional services were “parodied as a takeaway box type service” and that while it was acknowledged that other practitioners offered similar pre-pay agreements, the item made the practice out to be unethical.

[21]   With respect to the reliability of the item’s sources of information, Dr Parker argued that Target had spoken to a Board member who had never assessed him and a potential patient who had never undertaken treatment from him. He believed that neither source was able to comment on his services, as neither had ever used them or properly investigated them.                  

Fairness

[22]   Dr Parker considered that the item had treated him unfairly because he was not told who Target’s complainant (Wayne) was, despite requesting the name. He contended that, as a result, he could not provide a “meaningful response” to the questions asked of him. He also argued that the specific claims made in the item were not made known to him in advance of the programme being broadcast and as such, “no appropriate response could be given”.

[23]   Dr Parker said that because he did not know who the complainant was he could not provide any information to Target. He explained that he had a matter before the court and the Health and Disability Commissioner and that he did not know if Target’s complainant was the same person. If it was the same person, “neither party was permitted to embark on a discussion of the merits of the matter” he said. Dr Parker considered that it was unfair for him not to be told if Target’s complainant was the person he was going to be up against in court.

[24]   Dr Parker argued that he had not been informed of the “inaccurate allegations made by Wayne” including that he had allegedly claimed that a person could live 120 years if their spine had been adjusted since birth. He maintained that he was still waiting to be “provided the information and the identity of the complainant” when the programme aired.       

Standards

[25]   Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 4 Balance

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 Accuracy

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 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Authority

[26]   Explaining why it had not responded within the time limit, the broadcaster stated that it had sent a letter to the complainant on 11 April 2008 stating that it had to extend its response time slightly due to additional points that had been raised by Dr Parker in his latest correspondence with it. Dr Parker had not received the broadcaster’s letter regarding the time extension before he referred his complaint directly to the Authority.

[27]   TVWorks said that the Target item had interviewed Wayne (who had recounted his experience with the Foundation), discussed general issues for the public to be aware of when dealing with health professionals, and sought the Chiropractic Board’s opinion of Dr Parker’s business practices and selling methods.

Balance

[28]   The broadcaster argued that the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance to which the balance standard applied. It stated that there was no on-going public debate about Dr Parker’s selling methods and business practices. It considered that the points made by the complainant under the balance standard were really matters relating to fairness and that they would be more adequately dealt with under the fairness standard. It was of the view that Standard 4 was not applicable in the circumstances.

Accuracy

[29]   TVWorks disagreed that the item had alleged the complainant offered a “one size fits all” treatment programme. It stated that this was one of the questions put to Dr Parker by the programme’s producers “in a follow-up letter” to which he had never replied. The broadcaster noted that the term was never used in the item itself and argued that the closest the report came to discussing it as an issue was in general terms when considering the Health and Disability Commissioner’s Code of Rights, where the presenter stated:

Every consumer must receive services consistent with their needs, which means a health practitioner can’t offer the same contract for the same price and the same length of time to every patient.  

[30]   The broadcaster pointed out that the chairman of the Chiropractic Board then provided a general explanation as to the reasoning behind the Code of Rights. It declined to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

[31]   With respect to the finance documents and Dr Parker’s contention that Wayne and his wife were “sent home with documentation to consider”, TVWorks stated that Wayne and his wife had told them “at no stage did he say...go away and think about it. It was...push push push”. It maintained that it was clear that Wayne and his wife “felt it was their decision to take the documents home”.

[32]   The broadcaster argued that the item had not stated or implied that the Board had ever done an investigation of its own into the allegations made by Target. It contended that it was explicit from the chairman’s statement, “he’s contravened the Board’s Code of Ethics and with a suitable complaint the Board will pursue this with vigour”, that no investigation had been done by the Board.

[33]   TVWorks maintained that the item had not criticised the effectiveness of the spinal health programme, but that it was critical of the complainant’s selling methods, business practices and terms of payment. It contended that the item did not purport to be an investigation into the efficacy of Dr Parker’s treatment programme.    

[34]   The broadcaster argued that the item did not imply that the complainant had “personally offered a loan to Wayne and his wife” and noted that the item contained an image of a direct debt form with a finance company logo. The chairman of the Board spoke in general terms about loans being offered to patients saying “the offering of a loan to a patient is wrong” and Target was entitled to include his professional opinion, it said.

[35]   TVWorks contended that the item had not criticised “pre-paid schemes per se” and did not imply that they were unethical. The item simply reported that the Board was “unhappy with schemes that are 6 months or longer and involve several thousands of dollars”. It said that it was in this context that the item raised the question of the money-back guarantee when a loan had been taken out to fund a pre-paid scheme.

[36]   Responding to the complainant’s contention that the item implied he did not honour his money-back guarantee, the broadcaster said that Target had only raised the issue of the guarantee in respect of its operation where a loan had been taken out to pay for treatment and had not implied Dr Parker did not honour his guarantee.

[37]   With respect to the allegation about violations of the Code of Ethics, the broadcaster noted that the presenter had stated “In Wayne’s case it looks like at least 16 ethics have been breached. Here are some of them...”. It maintained that the item had accurately reported that “it looked like” the complainant had breached the Code of Ethics.

[38]   TVWorks said that “while Dr White was not specifically speaking about you [Dr Parker] he was commenting on what he had been shown, which was your material”. It pointed out that Dr White had said:

The most outrageous thing that Wayne was told was the fact that a chiropractor can extend his life by 10 years; the phrase ‘he can fix what others can’t’ is a shocker. It breached the Code of Ethics. You can’t criticise your colleagues or other health professionals and you can’t make claims that can’t be substantiated. This chiropractor is a rogue.

[39]   The broadcaster maintained that the specific comments made by the Board’s representative were put to the complainant in a letter to his lawyers on 14 January 2008 and that he had been given an adequate opportunity to respond.

[40]   Considering Dr Parker’s complaint that he had not changed his paperwork as was stated in the item, TVWorks contended that it was “simply reporting information provided to it by Dr White following a conversation” with the complainant. It argued that there was no reason for the programme’s producers not to rely on Dr White’s recollection of the conversation. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the item was inaccurate.

Fairness

[41]   TVWorks argued that the programme’s makers had made every effort to enable the complainant to present his point of view. It pointed out that in a letter dated 14 January 2008, he was invited to answer 10 questions either by way of an interview or by written response. The questions were general questions about Dr Parker’s practice, the offer of pre-payment contracts and his advertising material, it said.

[42]   The broadcaster stated that in a letter to the complainant’s lawyer dated 22 January, “Target provided the background information as requested, an outline of the Board’s comments, as well as 28 further questions that related to [Dr Parker’s] general practice and that were not specific to any one consultation”. It maintained that an email from its lawyers to Dr Parker explained that it did not have consent from the complainant (Wayne) to provide his name to him at the time of correspondence. It also stated that Wayne had requested that he not be identified to Dr Parker in advance of the programme going to air.

[43]   TVWorks argued that if Dr Parker took issue with Dr White’s comments as a representative of the Board, then that was an issue that he needed to take up with the Board directly. It said that Target could seek expert evaluation as it saw fit.

[44]   The broadcaster considered that the item had been “thoroughly researched and fairly presented. The programme carefully investigated Wayne’s concerns and presented the outcome of its investigation”.

[45]   In relation to Dr Parker’s complaint that his service was parodied as “a takeaway box type service”, TVWorks argued that it was “a direct response to the way the complainants described the service”. It contended that “this was a legitimate device to use”.

[46]   Regarding the issue of pre-payment arrangements, the broadcaster noted that the item had mentioned that other practitioners also offered pre-payment arrangements and that the item had made it clear that they were not unethical per se. It pointed out that the Board’s problems with such arrangements related to those for periods greater than six months and involving several thousands of dollars.

[47]   TVWorks maintained that the claims made in the programme about the business practices of the complainant and his alleged statements to Wayne were adequately put to him and that he had been given sufficient time to respond. It considered that the programme makers did not need to supply Dr Parker with a recording of the interview with Dr White as “Target outlined the points raised by the Board in the letter of 22 January” and he had been given a fair opportunity to comment. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[48]   Dr Parker argued that the item “presented Wayne’s subjective and unqualified opinion of events as fact without any discretion or exercise of judgement as to balance, accuracy or fairness”.

[49]   With respect to balance, the complainant contended that the item did discuss a controversial issue of public importance and that reasonable efforts were not made and reasonable opportunities were not given to present significant points of view. He reiterated his arguments that he should have been provided with Wayne’s details so that he could have made a “meaningful response” and that “he was merely presented with hypothetical and general questions about his practice”.

[50]   Dr Parker argued that “the TV3 letters never requested answers to the allegations” contained in the programme and that the broadcaster had never “tried to find out what the Chiropractic Board thought of my ethics”.

[51]   The complainant contended that the letter he had received from the Board’s lawyer stated that Target had taken Dr White’s “comments out of context” and that this meant that Dr White’s interview, as depicted, was inaccurate. He also reiterated a number of his points relating to the alleged inaccuracies.  

[52]   Dr Parker maintained that he “had no warning that the Chiropractic Board was to comment” on his performance. He stated that the Board was a legally established disciplinary body to which he was answerable and that “due process was simply ignored”.

[53]   The complainant considered that it was unfair and a breach of natural justice for the item to have included a “hypothetical response” by Dr White to Target’s questions without him having the opportunity to respond. Dr Parker maintained that the item had treated him unfairly. 

Further Information Requested by the Authority

[54]   The Authority noted that the broadcaster had not directly addressed Mr Parker’s complaint that the programme was in breach of Standards 4, 5 and 6 in its presentation of the interview with Dr White as outlined in paragraph [17] above. It requested that TVWorks provide it with a further response regarding this issue.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority’s Request

[55]   TVWorks considered that it had addressed Mr Parker’s complaint about the interview with Dr White in its decision on his formal complaint. However, it reiterated that the item accurately reflected the Board’s opinion that it “looked like” Dr Parker had breached the Code of Ethics. The broadcaster maintained that Dr White was not speaking specifically about Dr Parker, but was commenting on what he had been shown, which was Dr Parker’s material.

[56]   To expand on its arguments, TVWorks obtained comment from the producer of the item. The broadcaster stated that the producer had confirmed that:

All the material presented to the Chiropractic Board for comment related to and only to Dr Parker and the experience of Wayne and his wife. We supplied them with all the material that Wayne had received from Dr Parker, and they were aware of that. Because at that stage no formal complaint had been made concerning Dr Parker, their comments could only be hypothetical, that is their comments were what they would say or how they would react if such a complaint was lodged.

[57]   The broadcaster stated that “the Board were happy for the interview to take place so long as all the comments regarding the Board and quotes made by Dr White were cleared” with the Board’s Registrar, which had been done.

[58]   TVWorks reiterated its arguments that the item’s discussion of prepayment schemes was a general one and that Dr White’s response to Dr Parker’s DVD was genuine and honest.

[59]   The broadcaster argued that the Board was commenting hypothetically in the sense that it had no current complaint about Dr Parker, but that it was commenting “specifically and solely on Dr Parker’s material”.

Authority’s Request for Additional Information

[60]   For clarification, the Authority asked TVWorks whether it disagreed with the letter from the Board’s lawyers dated 28 March 2008, that stated Dr White was not asked to make any comment on Dr Parker specifically, was not given Dr Parker’s name, and was not aware that his comments would feature in a programme about Dr Parker.

[61]   The Authority also asked the broadcaster to provide it with any further details it may have had in response to Dr Parker’s claim that he did not ring the Board and say that he was going to re-draft all his documents.

Broadcaster’s Response to Request for Additional Information

[62]   With respect to Dr White’s interview, TVWorks stated that “the Board did not know our story related to Dr Sean Parker until the interview”. It maintained that prior to filming, Dr White and the Board’s Registrar had been shown all of Wayne’s material from the Foundation and that, while Dr Parker was not named in the material, the Foundation was. It said that before the interview had started, Dr White and the Board’s Registrar were aware of the name of the company involved (the Foundation).

[63]   The broadcaster stated that both Dr White and the Board’s Registrar agreed to watch Dr Parker’s DVD given to them by Wayne and that Dr Parker was clearly identifiable on it. It contended that Dr White agreed to give his reaction to the DVD on camera and was “well aware” that the Foundation and Dr Parker “were in the frame”. However, it stated that it was true that Dr White was not asked to specifically comment on Dr Parker.

[64]   TVWorks argued that both Dr White and the Board’s Registrar knew the interview was for the Target programme, knew what the programme was about and were aware that the subject of the item was the Foundation and Dr Parker, and that the issues were about Wayne’s case.

[65]   With respect to Dr Parker allegedly changing his paperwork, the broadcaster stated that Dr Parker rang the Board and spoke with its Registrar, who reported the conversation to the programme’s director. It maintained that the Board’s Registrar had told the director that Dr Parker had told him that he was going to review his documentation “to bring them in line with the Board’s Code of Ethics”. It maintained that Target had verified with the Board’s Registrar exactly what it was going to say and that it had been given permission by the Registrar to report the conversation.              

Authority's Determination

[66]   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 6 (fairness)

[67]    Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal justly and fairly with any individual or organisation taking part or referred to in an item. The Authority considers that many of the points raised by the complainant under the balance and accuracy standards relate more to issues of fairness. Accordingly, those matters not dealt with under the Authority’s consideration of the balance or accuracy standard are addressed below in its consideration of Standard 6 (fairness).

Guarantee of an extra 10 years of life

[68]   Dr Parker argued that the item was wrong when it stated he had guaranteed Wayne an extra 10 years of life and that the item “presented Wayne’s subjective and unqualified opinion of events as fact without any discretion or exercise of judgement as to balance, accuracy or fairness”.

[69]   In the Authority’s view, Wayne and his wife were entitled to give their opinions about their experience with Dr Parker and the Foundation. With respect to the item’s statement that Dr Parker had guaranteed Wayne an extra 10 years of life, the Authority finds that the statement related to Wayne’s recollection of what he had been told by the complainant, and that the item was entitled to present this information. It also notes that in a letter dated 22 January 2008, Target specifically questioned Dr Parker about the alleged claims of him being able to extend people’s lives and that he did not respond to these questions. The Authority considers that the complainant was given an adequate opportunity to respond to the allegations, and declines to uphold this aspect of the fairness complaint.

“One size fits all”

[70]   In response to the complainant’s allegation that the item presented his treatment programme as “one size fits all”, the Authority agrees with the broadcaster’s submissions. This phrase was never used during the item; the closest that the item came to discussing the issue was in general terms, when considering the Health and Disability Commissioner’s Code of Rights. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the fairness complaint.

Wayne’s allegation that he was pressured to sign up

[71]   Dr Parker contended that the item neglected to mention that Wayne had been sent home with finance documentation and that it unfairly emphasised Wayne’s claim that he felt pressured to sign directly after his consultation. The Authority disagrees. As mentioned above, it considers that Wayne and his wife were entitled to express their genuine opinion that they felt pressured to sign the finance documents while at the Foundation. Further, it was obvious to viewers that Wayne had in fact taken the documentation home to consider and that he ended up deciding not to sign it. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the fairness complaint.

Money-back guarantee

[72]   Dr Parker argued that the item had implied that the Foundation did not honour its money-back guarantee. The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the item did not suggest this, but instead questioned how the guarantee would work where a loan had been taken out to finance treatment. Accordingly, it declines to uphold this aspect of the fairness complaint.

Interview with Dr White

[73]   With respect to the item’s interview with Dr White, the Authority notes that during the first part of the interview, Dr White was talking generally about pre-payment schemes, treatment for different patients and the offering of personal loans to patients by practitioners. But in the second part of the interview, Dr White made various comments after having viewed Dr Parker’s DVD and advertising material. While these comments were speculative, the Authority concludes that they were referring directly to the complainant and the Foundation.

[74]   Dr Parker’s complaint about Dr White’s interview related to his belief that the Board’s representative should not have commented on him, as his doing so was like the Board pre-determining a complaint against Dr Parker when one had not been made. However, the Authority considers that this allegation of professional inappropriateness is not a matter of broadcasting standards. This is an issue for Dr Parker to take up with the Board.

[75]   The Authority also notes that Target’s letter to Dr Parker dated 22 January 2008 contained a considerable amount of detail regarding the Board’s criticisms and that the complainant had over two weeks to respond before the item was broadcast. It considers that the complainant was put on notice in a fair manner and that he was given adequate time to respond to the Board’s criticisms as outlined in Target’s letter. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the interview with Dr White was unfair.  

Anonymity of Target’s complainant

[76]   With respect to Dr Parker’s complaint that he was not told who Target’s complainant was, the Authority is of the view that it was not necessary for Dr Parker to know this to make an adequate response to the questions being asked of him. The questions Target put to Dr Parker were general questions about his and the Foundation’s business practices; they did not need to relate to any specific patient for Dr Parker to give an adequate response.

[77]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6 (fairness).    

Standard 5 (accuracy) 

Allegation that Dr Parker was offering personal loans
[78]   The accuracy standard requires news, current affairs and other factual programmes to be accurate on points of fact. The Authority disagrees with the complainant’s contention that the item implied he was offering personal loans to patients to pay for treatments. It considers that the item made it clear to viewers that the loan offered to Wayne to pay for his treatment would be provided by a finance company and not by Dr Parker himself. This view is supported by the fact that an image of a direct debit form with an identifiable finance company logo was shown during the discussion about the loan.

[79]   The Authority also agrees with the broadcaster that Dr White’s comment “the offering of a loan to a patient is wrong” was made in general terms and in relation to practitioners offering personal loans to patients to pay for treatment. The statement was not directed at the loan offered to Wayne through a finance company. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of Dr Parker’s accuracy complaint.    

Implication that all pre-paid arrangements were unethical

[80]   The complainant contended that it was inaccurate for Target to imply that all pre-paid arrangements were unethical. The Authority notes that the item stated that “to be fair, Dr Parker isn’t the only chiropractor to offer this kind of pre-payment contract”. It also notes that Dr White was questioned on pre-pay arrangements and that he stated “the pre-payment schemes the Board in particular are unhappy with are those that are six months and longer in duration and involving several thousand dollars”.

[81]   The Authority finds that the item did not imply that all pre-paid arrangements were unethical, but rather that the Board viewed pre-payment schemes of six months or longer and involving several thousand dollars as potentially exploitive. Accordingly, it declines to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

Allegation that Dr Parker had breached 16 ethics in the Code of Ethics

[82]   Dr Parker argued that the item had been inaccurate because it claimed there had been 16 violations of the Code of Ethics, but gave no detail about most of the supposed breaches. The Authority notes that the item stated “in Wayne’s case, the Board says that it looks like at least 16 ethics have been breached” and then went on to cite four examples.

[83]   In the Authority’s view, the statement complained about was not an unqualified statement of fact to which the accuracy standard applies. It finds that the statement was an approximation that was sufficiently qualified by the words “looks like” in the statement. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

Comment that Dr Parker was changing all of his paperwork

[84]   With respect to the item’s comment that Dr Parker had contacted the Board and told it that he was changing his paperwork, the Authority notes that the parties have presented it with conflicting accounts of what was actually said. In these circumstances, the Authority considers it must decline to determine this aspect of the complaint under section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[85]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5 (accuracy).

Standard 4 (balance)

[86]   Standard 4 requires broadcasters to provide balance when discussing controversial issues of public importance. The item complained about focused on Wayne’s personal experience with Dr Parker and the Foundation, and the business practices that he had encountered. The Authority considers that an item discussing and focusing solely on the business practices of one chiropractor, especially one whose business practices had not previously been the subject of media attention, does not constitute a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance as envisaged by the standard. In these circumstances, it finds that the balance standard is not applicable. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item was unbalanced. 

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
13 August 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Sean Michael Parker’s formal complaint – 11 March 2008
2.           Dr Parker’s referral to the Authority – 11 April 2008
3.           TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 17 April 2008
4.           TVWorks’ further  response to the Authority – 29 April 2008
5.           Dr Parker’s final comment – 20 May 2008
6.           TVWorks’ response to request for further information – 13 June 2008
7.           TVWorks’ response to request for additional information – 18 June 2008