BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Quin and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-182

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Brian Quin
Number
2010-182
Programme
Close Up
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – investigated high teenage pregnancy and abortion rates in New Zealand – interviewed two girls who unexpectedly fell pregnant, one of whom chose to have an abortion – presenter conducted studio interview with an “expert in youth sexual health” – allegedly unbalanced

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues) – item discussed why teenage pregnancy rate was so high in New Zealand, not the merits of abortion – viewers would have been aware of alternative viewpoints – not upheld 

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Close Up, broadcast on TV One at 7.30pm on 28 October 2010, considered high teenage pregnancy and abortion rates in New Zealand. The presenter stated in the introduction, “The issue is not about the rights or wrongs of abortion. The issue is about why so many of our teenagers end up in this position. We’ll look for some answers from one of the experts in this field shortly”.

[2]   In the first part of the item, a reporter spoke to two teenagers who unexpectedly fell pregnant; one who had sought an abortion, and one who had carried to term. A sexual health nurse was shown commenting that one of the issues was a lack of education, and a lack of self esteem when insisting on the use of protection. She said, “There’s still a lot of ignorance out there”, and gave an example of a young woman asking for a pregnancy test the day after having unprotected sex.

[3]   In the second part of the item, the presenter conducted a live studio interview with Dr Sue Bagshaw, “an expert in youth sexual health”. The presenter asked her “why are our [teenage pregnancy] rates so high?” She said that there were many reasons, including poor mental health, a lack of guidance from parents, a lack of resources in the health sector, and a lack of education in sexual health from an early age. When asked by the presenter, “Is there a danger that we’re going to sexualise our young children by exposing them to this?”, Dr Bagshaw responded, “Not at all. All research has shown that sexual health education does not encourage people to have sex.”

Complaint

[4]   Brian Quin made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was unbalanced in breach of Standard 4. He considered that, following interviews with two girls, one who had chosen to abort, and one who had carried to term, the item only included comments from Dr Sue Bagshaw who he said was from the Family Planning Association (FPA). He argued that the FPA was “as much part of the problem as part of the solution”, because it “[refused] to see sexual activity by teenagers as morally wrong/inappropriate, and [approached] it only in terms of ‘harm minimisation’”.

[5]   Mr Quin considered that Close Up should have presented alternative viewpoints, for example from a representative of “Voice for Life”. He was of the view that, following the teaser for the item, which he considered claimed that the item would tell viewers why teenage pregnancy rates were so high in New Zealand, viewers would have expected more than the “same old, same old” views of the FPA.

Standards

[6]   Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to the determination of this complaint. 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

[7]   TVNZ first considered whether the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance to which Standard 4 applied. It noted that the Authority had typically defined an issue “of public importance” as something that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public”,1 and a “controversial issue” as one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion, or about which there has been ongoing public debate.2

[8]   While TVNZ acknowledged that there was public interest in the topic discussed in the item, it did not consider that it was a controversial issue of public importance for the purposes of the standard. Even if it was, it considered that appropriate viewpoints had been sought and presented.

[9]   TVNZ was of the view that the item “was not designed to be an investigation into the rights or wrongs of sexual activity of teenagers, but rather a look at why so many teenage girls end up unexpectedly pregnant – given that effective contraception is available”. It argued that the focus of the item was clearly signposted as such from the outset.

[10]   The broadcaster maintained that Dr Bagshaw was an appropriate person to interview given that the focus of the item was why so many young women ended up unexpectedly pregnant. It argued that the focus was not to debate the “morals” of having sex or of abortion, but rather why women were not using contraception, leading to a high abortion rate. TVNZ noted that time was given also to a sexual health nurse to speak about some of the issues involved for teens, including giving several reasons for the high abortion rates, such as a lack of knowledge and issues of self esteem. Dr Bagshaw discussed these reasons in more detail in her interview, it said.

[11]   TVNZ concluded that appropriate viewpoints were sought and presented in the item and it declined to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Quin referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[13]   Mr Quin disagreed that the issue discussed was not a controversial issue of public importance. He considered that the promo for the item suggested that the topic was of major public importance. He said he had not suggested that the programme was an investigation of the rights and wrongs of teenage sexual activity, but rather considered that sex education provided by the FPA had been ineffective to date, so the programme should have presented an alternative viewpoint in response to Dr Bagshaw.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14]   TVNZ argued that Mr Quin had not raised the promo in his original complaint, so it could not be considered at the referral stage. In any case, it considered that promos were not subject to Standard 4 as they were not news, current affairs or factual programming. It cited the Authority’s decision in de Villiers and TVNZ,3 which found that “Standard 4 does not apply to a short promo for a current affairs programme, as a promo by its very nature could not contain a ‘discussion’ of a controversial issue”.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[15]   Mr Quin maintained that only one viewpoint was presented, by Dr Bagshaw and the sexual health nurse interviewed who he argued would have been trained by the FPA. Mr Quin argued that:

FPA-organised programmes of sexual health services have done nothing to improve the teenage pregnancy/abortion situation in the time they have been funded by the Government for this purpose...

FPA’s failure to achieve any change in this area (teenage abortions) in spite of millions of dollars spent, indicates that it does not have all the answers, which could well lie elsewhere, and should have been looked for by TVNZ.

Authority's Determination

[16]   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.

[17]   Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and 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.

[18]   In our view, the item focused on why New Zealand had such a high rate of teenage pregnancies and abortions. We accept that this amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance. The personal stories of two girls were used to illustrate this issue – one who chose to have an abortion, and one who kept her baby. We consider that Dr Bagshaw, described as “an expert in youth sexual health”, and the sexual health nurse, were appropriate people to provide comment on New Zealand’s teen pregnancy rate. They put forward the view that the high rate of teen pregnancies was due to a number of factors, including a lack of education for young people.

[19]   Mr Quin’s objection was that no other views were presented. Standard 4 allows balance to be achieved “within the period of current interest”. We consider that, as the issue of teen pregnancy is ongoing, reasonable viewers would have been aware that alternative viewpoints existed, for example, that teenagers were given too much sexual education, and that instead they should be encouraged to practise abstinence. We note that the Close Up presenter touched on this, when he asked, “Is there a danger that we’re going to sexualise our young children by exposing them to this?”

[20]   We therefore find that it was not necessary, in the interests of balance, to include, for example, comment from a representative of “Voice for Life”, as argued by the complainant.

[21]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
29 March 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Brian Quin’s formal complaint – 5 November 2010

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 8 December 2010

3                 Mr Quin’s referral to the Authority – 13 December 2010

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 10 February 2011

5                 Mr Quin’s final comment – 15 February 2011


1For example, Powell and CanWest TVWorks, Decision No. 2005-125

2For example, MSD and TVNZ, Decision No. 2006-076

3Decision No. 2009-163