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So and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-166

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Nancy So
Number
2010-166
Programme
Close Up
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – item reported on police corruption – presenter interviewed Police Association President, former police officer and a defence lawyer – allegedly unbalanced

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – item discussed a controversial issue of public importance – interviewees given sufficient opportunity to comment on the issue and present their perspectives – broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant viewpoints on the topic – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Close Up, broadcast on TV One at 7pm on Tuesday 19 October 2010, reported on allegations of police corruption in an historical murder case. The presenter conducted a live studio interview with a former police officer who had been involved in the case, and a defence lawyer, who said that an investigation into current police corruption was required. He also interviewed the Police Association President. During the interview, the presenter questioned the interviewees about their views on the existence and extent of police corruption, both historically and in relation to current practice.

Complaint

[2]   Nancy So made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached Standard 4 (controversial issues).

[3]   The complainant said that the lead up to the story suggested that police corruption was a current and widespread issue. She said that the item dealt with a controversial issue of public importance, yet only five minutes was allocated for the three interviewees “to put their viewpoints across, present any evidence and to properly debate the issue”. In the complainant’s view, they were not given a sufficient opportunity to elaborate, or rebut the claims of police corruption. Further, she said, the presenter cut one of the interviewees off and prevented him from making points which seemed significant and relevant to the topic under discussion.

Standards

[4]   Ms So nominated Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in her complaint. This 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

[5]   TVNZ stated that the Authority had previously defined a controversial 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 accepted that police corruption was such an issue. However, the broadcaster considered that a range of perspectives were provided on the programme, including the wider police view given by the Police Association President, as well as comment from a former police officer, and a defence lawyer, who each gave their views on the alleged corruption. TVNZ argued that the issue of police corruption was discussed to the extent possible in the limited time available, and said that it continued to be discussed by the New Zealand media.

[6]   Accordingly, TVNZ found that appropriate viewpoints had been sought and presented and it declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[7]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms So referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[8]   The complainant maintained that the story raised serious allegations of “widespread current police corruption”, but that insufficient time was allocated to allow all significant viewpoints to be presented. She said that a lack of available time was not a “valid excuse or argument” and considered that it was “totally irresponsible” for TVNZ to raise a controversial issue but not allow a “full and proper debate”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9]   TVNZ reiterated its argument that the time allocated to issues discussed on programmes was an editorial decision and not an issue of programme standards. It maintained that Standard 4 had not been breached.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[10]   The complainant maintained that the broadcaster failed to make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to allow all significant viewpoints to be presented on the programme. Standard 4 required sufficient time to be allocated to the discussion, she argued.

Authority’s Determination

[11]   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.

[12]   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.

[13]   In our view, the focus of the item was the existence and extent of current police corruption, discussed within the context of the need for an inquiry into an historical murder case. This was apparent from the following exchange between the presenter and the defence lawyer:

Presenter:       This was some decades ago, but are we talking historical concerns, or do you have
                      concerns today that the police are not as upfront or straight as they should be?

Lawyer:           Well, the reality is they are not always [upfront]. I mean there have been problems for
                      many, many years. I mean the Crewe case is one of them. I have had a number of
                      really important cases where clients have demonstrated the police have lied, perjured
                      themselves, and yet nothing was done.

Presenter:       Is this endemic, I mean are we talking isolated cases? Do we need an inquiry?

Lawyer:           Of course we need an inquiry. The problem is, it’s the culture of the police, it’s the
                      way they’re taught, it’s the way the boys look after each other – they form the
                      turtle and they make sure that the evidence fits.                     

[14]   The presenter went on to question the Police Association President about the so-called “culture of the police”, and the need for a public inquiry. The presenter stated, “The issue is, whether our police can be trusted.”

[15]   We consider that these exchanges amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance, as the existence and extent of current police corruption is something that has a significant impact on, and is of concern to, members of the New Zealand public.

[16]   The complainant argued that insufficient time was allocated to allow all significant viewpoints on the issue to be presented on the programme. The broadcaster argued that the issue was discussed to the extent possible in the limited time available, and that it continued to be discussed in other media.

[17]   Taking into account the practical realities of broadcasting, we find that TVNZ made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view on the topic. We note that time constraints and other factors will inevitably impact on the level of balance achievable in programmes. For this reason, the Authority takes a commonsense approach to Standard 4, and is of the view that:2

While there is an overriding obligation to provide balance, it would be unrealistic to expect that every current affairs or factual programme will be mathematically balanced, and every perspective covered.

[18]   With this in mind, we note that each interviewee was able to offer their perspective on the issue under discussion on the programme. The former police officer discussed corruption with regard to the Crewe case, stating that he had only later learned that evidence had been fabricated. As noted above, the defence lawyer put forward his view that police corruption was still prevalent and widespread.  In contrast, the Police Association President, in presenting the wider police view, stated that the police could be trusted due to a number of developments that had been put in place. All of the interviewees agreed that an inquiry was required.  

[19]   In our view, the three interviewees presented sufficient information to enable viewers to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion about the existence and extent of current police corruption, and the need for an inquiry into the Crewe case.

[20]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the 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                  Nancy So’s formal complaint – 19 October 2010

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 18 November 2010

3                 Ms So’s referral to the Authority – 29 November 2010

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

5                 Ms So’s final comment – 14 February 2011


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

2Practice Note: Controversial Issues: Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010)