BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Thorpe and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2006-077

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Antony Thorpe
3 News
CanWest TVWorks Ltd
TV3 # 2

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item including pictures of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon – allegedly inaccurate and in breach of programme information standard

Standard 5 (accuracy) – decline to determine under s.11(b) of the Broadcasting Act whether plane actually hit the Pentagon– item not misleading or inaccurate in any respect – not upheld

Standard 8 (programme information) – graphic of plane was overt and did not constitute “subliminal perception” – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An item broadcast on 3 News at 6pm on 17 May 2006 included pictures of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon which had just been released by the United States military. The segment stated that the release of these pictures “may fail to put to rest the many conspiracy theories that are surfacing on the internet”. It showed two images from websites which claimed that a plane had not hit the Pentagon.

[2] Referring to the pictures, the reporter said:

And you still can’t see the body of the plane itself, only the explosion. But the Pentagon now insists every last image of the crash is in the public domain.


[3] Antony Thorpe made a formal complaint to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item had breached Standards 5 and 8 of the Free-to-Air TV Code.

[4] Looking at Standard 8 (programme information), Mr Thorpe contended that the item had contained a graphic of a plane which had not been referred to by the reporter. He said:

The lack of aircraft wreckage and expected damage to the Pentagon has led to questions about whether there was a plane crash there at all. TV3 has used subliminal perception to fool people into thinking that there was.

[5] With respect to Standard 5 (accuracy) and guideline 5b, Mr Thorpe stated that the use of the above-mentioned graphic was misleading. He noted that the reporter had demonstrated that a plane was not actually visible, and claimed that it was misleading for “viewers to be told that no plane is visible while portraying a drawing of one”.

[6] Looking at guideline 5c, Mr Thorpe contended that CanWest had “downgraded” its integrity by “presenting unbelievable stories”. He said that the reporter suggested that

…a plane hit the Pentagon and completely vaporised in less than a second. This is not scientific. Matter cannot be destroyed.

[7] Further, the complainant wrote that the item had suggested that there was no more video footage of the plane crash as there were only two security cameras covering that side of the Pentagon. Mr Thorpe maintained that it was “not unreasonable to expect” that there were other security cameras close to the path of the plane, and he stated that CanWest had damaged its integrity by insisting that there were only two. In the complainant’s view, the broadcaster had used an unreliable source.


[8] The following standards and guidelines from the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice were nominated by the complainant:

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.


5b   Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

5c   Broadcasters must ensure that the editorial independence and integrity of news and current affairs is maintained.

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

Standard 8 Programme Information

Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programme information and structure does not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.

Guideline 8b

Broadcasters should not use the process known as "subliminal perception" or any other technique which attempts to convey information to the viewer by transmitting messages below or near the threshold of normal awareness.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9] CanWest considered Mr Thorpe’s complaint in relation to the requirements of Standards 5 (accuracy) and 8 (programme information). It stated that there had been no subliminal material in the item. Rather, there had been “a graphic representation” presented as part of the report. CanWest noted that the source of the material in the item was a “reputable international broadcaster, ITV”.

[10] In the broadcaster’s view, the item did not breach either standard nominated by the complainant. The report, it said, accurately represented the presentation of recently released pictures, and reported on the issues that had arisen about the initial refusal of the Pentagon to release the footage, and the footage itself.

Referral to the Authority

[11] Dissatisfied with CanWest’s response, Mr Thorpe referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He stated that he did not accept CanWest’s comment that the news item contained a “graphic representation”, maintaining that the broadcaster had used subliminal perception.

Authority's Determination

[12] 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.

[13] Mr Thorpe was concerned about three aspects of this broadcast. First, he complained that a graphic showing a plane next to the Pentagon was misleading and was an example of subliminal perception. The Authority notes that the picture was accompanied by the reporter’s comments about “conspiracy theories that are surfacing on the internet”. The Authority considers that viewers would have easily recognised that the picture was an example of material which is widely available on “conspiracy theory” websites. Accordingly, it does not uphold the complaint that the graphic would have misled viewers in breach of Standard 5 (accuracy). Further, because the graphic was overtly displayed, it was not an example of “subliminal perception” which would lead to a breach of Standard 8 (programme information).

[14] Second, the complainant argued that 3 News had insisted that there were only two security cameras which had taken footage of the plane crash, and this was inaccurate. The Authority does not uphold this part of the complaint, because 3 News did not actually assert that there was only footage from two security cameras. Rather, the item accurately reported the Pentagon’s stance on the matter in the following statement:

But the Pentagon now insists every last image of the crash is in the public domain.

[15] The Authority declines to determine the third aspect of Mr Thorpe’s complaint that the reporter “suggested that a plane hit the Pentagon and completely vaporised in less than a second”. Mr Thorpe is essentially arguing that it is not feasible to suggest that a plane hit the Pentagon.

[16] In the Authority’s view, no issue of broadcasting standards arises in respect of the item’s assumption that a plane hit the Pentagon. Despite the complainant's beliefs, the Authority notes that this is a widely accepted fact supported by the weight of credible evidence. Accordingly, the Authority declines to determine this aspect of the complaint under section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to determine one aspect of the complaint under s.11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, and it declines to uphold the remaining aspects of the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
19 September 2006


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

  1. Antony Thorpe’s formal complaint – 31 May 2006
  2. CanWest’s decision on the formal complaint – 29 June 2006
  3. Mr Thorpe’s referral to the Authority – 24 July 2006
  4. CanWest’s response to the Authority – 1 August 2006