BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Parrysmith and TVWorks Ltd - 2011-148

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Ted Parrysmith
Number
2011-148
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Campbell Live – reported on a pamphlet drop and predictions on Christian websites relating to an earthquake and tsunami in Christchurch – sought comment and an apology from Kathy Robinson, author of an article in the pamphlet – allegedly in breach of controversial issues, accuracy, fairness and children’s interests standards

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – item legitimately focused on Ms Robinson as she gave her permission for the publication of her prophecy on websites and was the first to have her predictions disseminated – item explicitly stated that it was unclear who printed the pamphlet – Ms Robinson was given a reasonable opportunity to comment – Ms Robinson treated fairly – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – item was accurate in relation to all material points of fact – would not have misled viewers as to the nature of Ms Robinson’s input into the pamphlet – not upheld 

Standard 4 (controversial issues) – Ms Robinson’s predictions did not amount to a controversial issue of public importance in the sense that they had topical currency, or were the subject of ongoing debate – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  An item entitled “The Prophecy Makers”, broadcast on Campbell Live at 7pm on TV3 on 29 September 2011, reported on a pamphlet drop and predictions on Christian websites which suggested that Christchurch would suffer an earthquake and a tsunami on 28 September. The reporter interviewed a Christchurch resident and her son about the impact of the pamphlet in their community, and sought comment and an apology from Kathy Robinson, the author of an article in the pamphlet.

[2]  Ted Parrysmith made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was inaccurate, unbalanced and unfair because it focused solely on Ms Robinson and misrepresented the nature of her input into the pamphlet. He also considered that the item was contrary to children’s interests. The complainant sought a public apology to Ms Robinson and her husband and the broadcast of additional information about the contents of the pamphlet.

[3]  The issue is whether the item breached Standards 4 (controversial issues), 5 (accuracy), 6 (fairness) and 9 (children’s interests) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was Ms Robinson treated unfairly?

[5]  Standard 6 (fairness) requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

[6]  On this occasion, the fairness complaint relates to the way the programme was presented in terms of its sole focus on Ms Robinson, the author of an article contained in a pamphlet predicting an earthquake and tsunami in Christchurch. The complainant has provided us with a copy of the pamphlet, which consists of three articles, each allegedly written by different individuals, including Ms Robinson.

[7]  Mr Parrysmith’s primary concern is that the Campbell Live item incorrectly and unfairly attributed the pamphlet to Ms Robinson without referring to, or challenging, the other authors. He also considered that it misrepresented her predictions, which in his view, related to water and drowning, as opposed to an earthquake or tsunami. He asserted that Ms Robinson did not permit “her word” to be used in the pamphlet.

[8]  TVWorks was satisfied that the information contained in the item was based on accurate research on the origin of the prophecies, noting that Ms Robinson’s predictions were first published on Christian websites and were available for download. The reporter said that she had spoken to people behind the websites and they informed her that any prophecies relating to an earthquake and tsunami on 28 September started with Ms Robinson, and that she gave permission for its distribution. The reporter stated, “From interviewing the people responsible for circulating the ‘prophecy’ online, it did begin with Kathy Robinson... other so-called dreams and visions followed. We focused on her because it started with her.”

[9]  We accept that the main focus of the item was Ms Robinson, and that the report did not mention that the pamphlet contained predictions made by at least two other individuals. During the item, the reporter, accompanied by a Christchurch woman and her son, sought an apology from Ms Robinson at her property. The voiceover stated, “Now they’re on their way to see the woman who started it all”, and, “The so-called prophecy came from a woman called Kathy Robinson”.

[10]  After seeking comment from Ms Robinson, albeit unsuccessfully, and reporting on the impact of the “scaremongering”, the voiceover stated:

We don’t know if it was Kathy Robinson who printed the alarmist pamphlet based on her prediction, but she gave permission for her warning to be distributed via Christian websites which we contacted by phone...

[11]  During a recorded telephone conversation with a man affiliated with the Christian websites, the reporter asked, “Why did you publish this in the first place?”, and he responded, “When we read it [Ms Robinson’s prophecy] there was a consensus by a number of people that they believed it was [true]”. The reporter said that the people behind the websites would not apologise, despite offering the prophecy for download.

[12]  Based on the information provided by the broadcaster, in particular that Ms Robinson gave permission for her prophecy to be published on Christian websites and it was endorsed by those websites, and given she was the first person to have her predictions disseminated, we consider that it was fair that she should be challenged in relation to her views. While the report did not refer to the authors of similar predictions included in the pamphlet, we consider it was reasonable to focus the item on Ms Robinson given her predictions came first, and the others – perhaps influenced by this – followed, and given that the broadcaster could not establish who printed the pamphlet, which was made clear in the item.

[13]  With regard to the argument that the item misrepresented the nature of Ms Robinson’s input into the pamphlet, we are satisfied that, having read her predictions, it was not unfair to report that they related to an earthquake and tsunami, as opposed to only water and drowning.

[14]  Further, we are of the view that Ms Robinson was provided with a reasonable opportunity to comment and present her side of the story. The broadcaster informed us that, in addition to seeking comment from Ms Robinson at her property (as shown in the footage), the reporter had previously tried to contact her by telephone a number of times, and gave her the option of speaking off-camera.

[15]  Accordingly, we find that Ms Robinson was treated fairly, and we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 6.

Was the item inaccurate or misleading?

[16]  Standard 5 (accuracy) 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.

[17]  Mr Parrysmith argued that the item was inaccurate and misleading because it:

  • failed to address the pamphlet in its entirety, and did not challenge the authors of the other articles in the pamphlet; and
  • misrepresented the nature of Ms Robinson’s predictions, which related to water and drowning, not an earthquake or tsunami.

[18]  To the contrary, we agree with TVWorks that the item was not misleading. The broadcaster was not required, in order for the item to be accurate, to address the pamphlet in its entirety, or to challenge the authors of the other articles. As outlined in [13] above, we do not agree that Ms Robinson’s predictions were mischaracterised. Further, the item explicitly stated it was unclear who printed the pamphlet. We therefore do not consider that viewers would have been misled by the item.

[19]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

Was the item unbalanced?

[20]  Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed 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.

[21]  We must first consider whether the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance, defined as something that would have “a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public” (e.g. Powell and CanWest TVWorks1), or a matter which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion, or about which there has been ongoing public debate (for example, MSD and TVNZ2).

[22]  In our view, while predictions relating to an earthquake and tsunami in Christchurch were likely to be of concern to members of the public, we do not consider that Ms Robinson’s predictions amounted to a controversial issue of public importance in the sense that they were the subject of ongoing debate. The item was a one-off report on a prophecy that had been endorsed by fringe groups on fundamentalist Christian websites, and which was generally unknown to the public at large prior to the Campbell Live broadcast. This can be distinguished from prophecies made by the “Moon Man” Ken Ring, which had been the subject of ongoing debate in the media and which had attracted a high level of public interest.3

[23]  Having found that the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance to which Standard 4 applied, we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

Did the broadcaster adequately consider children’s interests?

[24]  Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm.

[25]  Mr Parrysmith did not specify how he considered this standard had been breached, though he stated that children in the area of the pamphlet drop were very frightened by the predictions.

[26]  We agree with TVWorks that the item formed part of an unclassified current affairs programme that was targeted at adults, and unlikely to appeal to children. Further, while the item discussed the effect of the pamphlet on children, we do not consider that the item itself contained any material that would have disturbed or alarmed them.

[27]  Accordingly, we are satisfied that the broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests and we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
28 February 2012

Appendix

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

1                  Ted Parrysmith’s formal complaint – 17 October 2011

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 2 November 2011

3                 Mr Parrysmith’s referral to the Authority (including a copy of the pamphlet and
                   correspondence with TVWorks) – 21 November 2011

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 9 December 2011

5                 Mr Parrysmith’s final comment – 20 December 2011

6                 TVWorks’ final comment – 20 January 2012


1Decision No. 2005-125

2Decision No. 2006-076

3See Beckett, Cox and Warren and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2011-047