van Iersel and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2015-005
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Jos van Iersel
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
An item on ONE News reported that long-term contraceptive devices had been implanted, without consent, in at least three women who had an abortion at the Epsom Day Unit. The reporter said, 'The Epsom Day Unit is a place where women come to exercise their right to choose'. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the phrase 'right to choose' materially misrepresented the abortion law in New Zealand. Although the statement was legally incorrect, it was peripheral to the focus of the item and so was not a material point of fact to which the accuracy standard applied.
Not Upheld: Accuracy
 An item on ONE News reported that long-term contraceptive devices had been implanted, without consent, in at least three women who had an abortion at the Epsom Day Unit. The reporter's opening statement in the item was, 'The Epsom Day Unit is a place where women come to exercise their right to choose'.
 Jos van Iersel complained that the reporter's use of the phrase 'right to choose' materially misrepresented New Zealand's abortion laws.
 The issue is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy standard as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The item was broadcast on TV ONE on 8 December 2014. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?
 The accuracy standard (Standard 5) 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. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.1
 The complainant argued that the use of the phrase 'right to choose' in the item perpetuated the commonly held, but mistaken, belief that New Zealand law allows 'abortion on demand'. The complainant outlined the legal requirements that must be met before an abortion can occur and argued that there is a material difference between 'terminating the unborn child's life as a matter of choice... [and being] certified by two consultants that continuing the pregnancy will result in serious danger to the mother's life'.
 TVNZ argued that the statement was not a material point of fact and viewers would not have been misled by the use of the common idiom 'right to choose'. It argued that 'right to choose' was linked to the concept of pro-choice, and this set the context for the item, namely that at least three women had long-term contraceptive devices implanted without their consent.
 We acknowledge that the notion of a 'right to choose' to have an abortion is not legally correct. Abortion is prima facie illegal in New Zealand but becomes lawful if certain conditions are met, including if the continuance of the pregnancy would result in serious danger to the life or the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.2
 Nevertheless, the ONE News item was not about abortion or the legal framework in New Zealand. The focus of the report was that the Health and Disability Commissioner had ordered a high-level audit after at least three women had discovered, after having an abortion, that they had been implanted with a long-term contraceptive device without their consent. This carried a high level of public interest. The reporter's brief mention of the 'right to choose' was peripheral to the item's focus, and we therefore find it was not a 'material point of fact' to which the accuracy standard applied. We agree with the broadcaster that the purpose of using the term 'right to choose' was to highlight that the women in question were not given any choice about having a contraceptive device implanted.
 Accordingly we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 5.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
1 May 2015
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Jos van Iersel's formal complaint – 8 December 2014
2 TVNZ's response to the complaint – 9 January 2015
3 Jos van Iersel's referral to the Authority – 8 February 2015
4 TVNZ's response to the Authority – 20 March 2015
1 Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036