BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Rice and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-078

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Stephen Rice
Number
2008-078
Programme
Breakfast
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast – item reported that two bodies had been found on top of a rail “carriage” – allegedly inaccurate

One News – news item on the death of two men whose bodies were found on top of a rail wagon – during the item, an interviewee referred to rail “carriage” – allegedly inaccurate

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – use of carriage technically inaccurate – distinction between carriage and wagon has been blurred by common usage over time – upholding the complaint would be an unjustified limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   The morning news on Breakfast, broadcast on TV One at 7am on Thursday 12 June 2008, contained a report on the deaths of two men whose bodies were discovered on top of a rail wagon in Christchurch. During the item the presenter stated:

Two bodies have been discovered on top of a rail carriage in Christchurch...

[2]   Later that day during an episode of One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm, the presenter introduced the story of the deaths by saying:

Rail officials are warning about the dangers of ‘train surfing’ after the gruesome deaths of two men. They were found bloodied and battered on top of a wagon in a Christchurch rail yard...

[3]   The report included interviews with a representative from Toll New Zealand, Sue Foley, and Detective Senior Sergeant John Rae from the Christchurch Police. During her interview, Ms Foley explained that Toll New Zealand understood that the men were “trying to get...a free ride by travelling on one of the carriages”.    

Complaint

[4]   Stephen Rice made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that both items had contained an inaccuracy.

[5]   The complainant argued that the Breakfast item’s reference to a railway carriage was incorrect and that the news reader should have referred to a railway wagon. He contended that carriages carried people and that wagons carried freight. Mr Rice considered that the use of the term “carriage” was “unnecessarily alarming” because in the New Zealand context “they are absolutely solely synonymous with the carrying of human passengers”.

[6]   With respect to the One News broadcast, the complainant argued that the broadcaster had “further exacerbated the matter” by showing a police detective incorrectly referring to carriages “when no such passenger carriages were involved”.

[7]    Mr Rice contended that the “inappropriate references in news reports to railway ‘carriages’ are alarming because they immediately raise concerns about multi-passenger safety”. 

Standards

[8]   Standard 5 and guidelines 5a and 5e of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

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.

Guidelines

5a    Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

5e    Broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to ensure at all times that the information sources for news, current affairs and documentaries are reliable.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   TVNZ noted that during the morning news on Breakfast reference was made to a rail “carriage”. It stated that this information was sourced from police reports supplied to it and was “broadcast in good faith”.

[10]   With respect to the One News broadcast, the broadcaster noted that its presenter had referred to a rail “wagon”. It also noted that Ms Foley had mentioned “carriages” during her interview. TVNZ referred to guideline 5a of the accuracy standard which states that errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

[11]   The broadcaster stated that “at all times in One News later that day, TVNZ staff referred to rail wagons”. It considered that the “error was corrected and the correct terminology was used”. TVNZ declined to uphold the accuracy complaint.    

Referral to the Authority

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

[13]   Referring to guideline 5e to the accuracy standard, he contended that TVNZ had “abrogated its responsibility” by “permitting the broadcasting of inappropriate references to ‘carriages’ by both the Christchurch Police and Sue Foley for Toll Rail”. Mr Rice argued that the broadcaster had failed in its duty to confirm the accuracy of “their verbal information”.

[14]   He maintained that the word “carriage” did not match the rail wagon being described by the interviewees. 

Authority's Determination

[15]   The members of the Authority have viewed recordings of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[16]   Standard 5 requires news, current affairs and other factual programmes to be truthful and accurate on points of fact. The Authority notes that the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the word carriage as “a railway passenger vehicle”. It therefore acknowledges that the use of the word carriage in the item was not technically correct according to that dictionary definition.

[17]   However, the Authority considers that, in everyday language, the distinction between the words carriage and wagon has become blurred over time; while the term “carriage” was once used only to describe a railway passenger vehicle, it is now used generally by some people to refer to any type of rail vehicle attached to an engine. In the Authority’s view, a considerable proportion of people, perhaps a majority, would not differentiate between the two words.

[18]   The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that viewers would have in no way been alarmed by the items containing the word carriage instead of the technically correct term wagon.  The items made it clear to viewers that two bodies had been found on top of a stationary rail vehicle by a worker in a Christchurch rail yard.

[19]   When deciding whether or not to uphold a complaint, the Authority must consider the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, in particular, section 14 which relates to the right of freedom of expression and section 5, which deals with justifiable limitations on the rights contained in the Bill of Rights Act. The Authority must perform a balancing exercise, taking into account all the circumstances and the conflicting rights involved. In this case, the Authority must decide whether a technical inaccuracy justifies upholding the complaint, or whether upholding the complaint would place an unjustified limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. 

[20]   While accepting that the use of the term “carriage” did not accord with the dictionary definition of that word, the Authority considers that to uphold the complaint on this basis would be an unjustified limitation on the broadcaster’s freedom of expression. This is particularly because the inaccuracy was not material to viewers’ understanding of the item, and the term’s meaning has been blurred over time by common usage. The Authority also notes that TVNZ subsequently used the more correct term “wagon” in its 6pm news bulletin. Accordingly, while it encourages broadcasters to use correct terminology at all times, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
18 September 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Stephen Rice’s formal complaint – 16 June 2008
2.           TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 15 July 2008
3.           Mr Rice’s referral to the Authority – 23 July 2008
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 1 August 2008