BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Watercare Services Ltd and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-043

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Watercare Services Ltd
Number
2011-043
Programme
Close Up
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up item reported on water leak in West Auckland – stated that Watercare had failed to respond to complaints about water leak – interviewed representative from Watercare – showed person drinking water which had come from storm-water drain – allegedly in breach of standards relating to accuracy, fairness and children’s interests

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – item created impression that complaints made to Watercare and that Watercare failed to respond to complaints – Watercare and council separate organisations – item inaccurate and misleading – however, in light of factual background, broadcaster made reasonable efforts to ensure item accurate and did not mislead – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – Watercare invited to appear on Close Up with regard to complaint made 6 November – Watercare given sufficient opportunity to check records given nature of allegations made against it – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – Close Up an unclassified current affairs programme – footage did not encourage children to drink from storm-water drains – broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests – 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 Friday 4 February 2011, reported on a water leak in West Auckland. The presenter introduced the item as follows:

If you live in Auckland city and you paid a mammoth water bill last year, what we are about to show you might get you really angry. While rate payers pay for every drop of town water they use, two West Auckland men found a pipe by their house spewing out hundreds of tonnes of drinking water each week and it’s all just going to waste. The worst thing is, they’ve told the council five times and nothing has been done.

[2]  The Close Up reporter interviewed the local resident who had discovered the leak. The reporter stated “[resident’s name] was so concerned about the leak that he called the council... he sat and waited but no one came”.

[3]  A water technician was shown collecting water from the leaking storm-water drain to test it for the presence of free chlorine, as the reporter stated the residents “decided to test the water to see what the council was happily pouring down the drain”. The following exchange took place:

          Technician:     There’s no doubt there’s chlorine in there. It’s definitely town water.
          Resident:        So that’s definitely town water, so I can’t drink this? [holding a container of
                                the collected water]
          Technician:     You can drink that.

[4]  The resident was shown swallowing a mouthful of water from the container, before stating, “We found out it was drinking water, so I immediately called the council again”. The reporter said, “two months and five calls to the council later, the water is still pouring out of the pipe”.

[5]  The presenter then conducted an interview with a representative from Watercare Services Ltd, via satellite from the site of the water leak. He introduced the interview, stating, “Guess what, Watercare were out there today and so a short time ago I talked to duty [operations] manager, [Name]”.

[6]  During the interview, the following exchange took place between the presenter and the duty operations manager (duty manager):

          Presenter:              It is good to see you there dealing with this, but why weren’t you there a year
                                       ago?

          Duty manager:       Clearly, if a call was logged in our customer services centre in November,
                                       there has been an unacceptable delay to repairing this leak. However, those
                                       systems and processes will be reviewed to ensure a delay such as this can
                                       never happen again.

          Presenter:             But it’s not just November. When we spoke to [resident’s name] he said he
                                       rang Watercare a year ago.

          Duty manager:       I am not aware of any calls logged at Watercare over 12 months ago....
                                       ...

          Presenter:             Because if that’s right, and according to the calculations we’ve done, that’s
                                      32,000 tonnes of water that’s gone out of that pipe.
                                       ...
                                      I suppose, I mean the problem is, some of the people there are wondering
                                      what good are assurances from Watercare. They said they spoke to your
                                      organisation, they were told by your technicians that this is not town supply
                                      water, it’s waste water.
                                        ...

                                      I’ll tell you what’s going to get a lot of people’s goats is, is that Watercare’s
                                      not shy about telling other people to conserve water and to look after it, and
                                      to charge healthily for the privilege, yet you’ve fallen down on the job
                                      yourselves.
                                       ...

                                      To be honest, it makes you guys look like a bit of a joke doesn’t it, because
                                      your website is full of tips on how to save water and you’re not following your
                                      own advice.

[7]  The duty manager reiterated that Watercare took its responsibilities very seriously, encouraged water conservation and was responding to the leak as promptly as possible. The presenter concluded the item and invited feedback from viewers, stating, “So is this a one-off, a communications problem, or have you had problems with Watercare not caring about the water?”

Complaint

[8]  Watercare Services Ltd (Watercare) made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached Standards 5 (accuracy), 6 (fairness) and 9 (children’s interests).

[9]  The complainant argued that allegations made on Close Up that it had failed to respond to complaints about a water leak were inaccurate. It noted that it was advised in an email from the programme producer, sent 4 February and inviting it to appear on the show, that a Glen Eden resident had called the company on 6 November 2010 to report a leaking water pipe. The complainant said that, having checked its phone logs, there was no evidence of the call among the 229 calls received by its contact centre on 6 November, nor among the 15,513 calls received from the 1-13 of November. It noted that, during the item, the resident did not say that he had called Watercare, but instead stated, on numerous occasions, that he had called the “council”. This was reiterated to Watercare employees who attended the site of the leak, it said.

[10]  The complainant considered that as the email inviting it to participate on the show was not sent until 4 February, it was given very little time to check its records and challenge the allegations. It noted that its duty manager was interviewed “live” on-site shortly after 5pm, less than two hours before the edited item aired. It said that, during the interview, he was confronted with a new allegation, presented as fact, that Watercare had been informed of the leak “a year ago”. The complainant considered that this was “highly unlikely” given that its subsequent inquiries found no evidence to support the claim and because prior to November 2010 it was purely a water and wastewater wholesaler primarily associated with dams and wastewater treatment plants. At that time it was not responsible for the type of infrastructure found at the site in issue, it said. The complainant considered that “presenting the damaging and misleading claim that an earlier complaint had been made during a live satellite interview with a representative who was unable to check or refute this” fell far short of the requirement to ensure that programmes were accurate in accordance with Standard 5.

[11]  In summary, the complainant argued that the following claims in the item were inaccurate:

  • that Watercare had failed to respond to a call on 6 November 2010, in which a resident complained about a leaking water pipe
  • that it had failed to repair a leak which it had allegedly known about for over a year
  • that the company had “fallen down on the job”
  • that the delay in responding to the 6 November call had made it “look like a bit of a joke”.

[12]  Turning to Standard 6, the complainant argued that it was unfair for the programme producer to persuade it to appear on Close Up by making “false claims” that were not supported by the programme. While it was advised that a resident had called Watercare on 6 November to report a leaking pipe, it reiterated that throughout the programme the resident said that he had called the “council”.

[13]  The complainant considered that “effectively ambushing” its duty manager during a
“live” satellite interview by presenting him with a new and unsubstantiated allegation about a complaint that was made “a year ago”, also breached the fairness standard. In addition, it considered that this fell far short of the requirement that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made or reasonable opportunities are given to present significant viewpoints.

[14]  The complainant said that once it became aware of the water leak it undertook to fix the problem, investigate any delay in its internal processes, and appear on Close Up at short notice as requested. It argued that the claims underpinning the report were unsubstantiated and that it had been given little or no opportunity for checking or rebuttal. It said that the broadcaster compounded the “errors” by ambushing its duty manager with new claims during a “live” interview, and then editorialising and saying that the organisation had “dropped the ball” and was “a bit of a joke”, which had impinged directly on its reputation.

[15]  Overall, the complainant considered that viewers would have been left with the impression that Watercare had repeatedly failed to respond to complaints, and accordingly that it was “a bit of a joke” and had “fallen down on the job”. It argued that it was unfair to criticise Watercare based on these factual errors.

[16]  Looking at Standard 9, the complainant noted that the item showed adults collecting and drinking “apparently clean-looking” water running from a storm-water drain and identifying this behaviour as “safe and acceptable”. It argued that this was “highly irresponsible, dangerous, and contrary to the interests of children”, because “In reality the test would have simply identified the presence of chlorine which can come from a number of sources [and] would not have identified any other contaminants”.

[17]  The complainant said that, typically, storm-water contaminates included heavy-metals and faecal matter from animal and other sources. Watercare said that it had consulted a leading expert on water quality, who said that many pathogenic microorganisms were commonly present in storm-water and considered that “For a television programme to show individuals consuming water from a storm-water drain is thoughtless to the point of recklessness, particularly with respect to the health of children.”

[18]  The complainant considered that any child who watched the item and replicated the behaviour would be at risk from toxic chemicals, bacteria, viruses and pathogenic protozoa. It said that the issue of children’s safety was of primary concern and asked TVNZ to remove the footage from its website and undertake not to repeat it.

Standards

[19]  The complainant nominated Standards 5, 6 and 9 and guidelines 9a and 9c of the Free-to-Air Code of Broadcasting Practice in its complaint. Guideline 5a is also relevant. These provide:

Standard 5 Accuracy

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/or
  • does not mislead.

Guideline 5a   

The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.

Guidelines

9a   Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material that would disturb or alarm them.

9c   Broadcasters should have regard to the fact that children tend to:

  • stay up later than usual on Friday and Saturday nights and during school and public holidays and,
  • watch television through to midday on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and during school and public holidays.

Accordingly, special attention should be given to providing appropriate warnings during these periods.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[20]  TVNZ stated that, according to the complainant’s website, Watercare was a council organisation, wholly owned by the Auckland City Council. On this basis, TVNZ did not consider that viewers would have been misled by verbal references to “the council” throughout the item. It said that the Auckland City Council had confirmed that Watercare was the correct body to approach with regard to water leaks, even in 2010.

[21]  The broadcaster said that the two men in the item had told Close Up that they had spoken to Watercare, and that Close Up had no reason to disbelieve them. It considered that Watercare and the council were “intrinsically linked” so that most viewers would not have distinguished between the two organisations in the context of the issue being discussed.

[22]  For these reasons, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 5 had been breached.

[23]  Turning to fairness, the broadcaster disagreed that the duty manager was “ambushed” during the interview. It said that it had been informed by Close Up that the interview was pre-recorded at Watercare’s insistence because the organisation would not agree to a live studio discussion on the issue.

[24]  TVNZ said that after Watercare had agreed to participate on the programme, but before the item was broadcast, it was provided with new information which was then put to the duty manager during the interview. The broadcaster considered that while the presenter’s questions were “direct and to the point, [they] were not aggressive or personally directed towards [the duty manager],” and that he had handled the interview “adeptly”. It said that Watercare could have alerted Close Up to any concerns that it had in the hours leading up to the broadcast, but failed to take the opportunity to do so. The broadcaster noted that Watercare was offered the opportunity to appear on the programme, which it accepted, and that it was adequately informed of the interview topic prior to filming. It considered that the duty manager was given sufficient time on the programme to answer the questions put to him.

[25]  In these circumstances, TVNZ considered that Watercare and its duty manager were treated fairly in the item and it therefore declined to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

[26]  Looking at Standard 9, TVNZ said that Close Up was a current affairs programme targeted at an adult audience. It noted that the Authority had previously acknowledged that younger viewers tended not to watch news and current affairs programmes unsupervised. The broadcaster said that the item contained footage of the resident drinking water from a container after it had been tested by the water technician, who confirmed that it was “town water” and therefore safe to drink; it did not show water being consumed “directly” from the storm-water drain. It said that the footage was included to show that it was not wastewater and that the leaking pipe was resulting in a significant waste of fresh water.

[27]  For the above reasons, TVNZ considered that the item was acceptable to screen in the PGR time-band and that it had sufficiently taken the interests of child viewers into account. Accordingly, it declined to uphold the children’s interests complaint.

Referral to the Authority

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

[29]  The complainant maintained that Watercare and the council were separate organisations. It stated:

[Watercare] is a limited liability company established in 1992 with its own board, chairman, chief executive and employees. It develops, owns, maintains and operates significant infrastructure, has responsibility for its own balance sheet and has its own Standard and Poor’s rating against which it borrows. Critically, in this case, it has its own contact centre and faults logging processes which are separate from those of the former or current councils. While it is true that following recent legislative changes it has a single shareholder – the Auckland Council – that does not mean it is the same as the council... a complaint to one does not equal a complaint to the other.

[30]  With regard to the broadcaster’s contention that the “men” in the item had informed Close Up that they had called Watercare, it reiterated that this was not supported by the broadcast. It said that, on six occasions, the resident, reporter and presenter stated that calls had been made to the “council”. It noted the following statements in the item:

  • “I’ve got a problem over here with the council...” (resident)
  • “I immediately rang the council again.” (resident)
  • “They called the council five times...” (presenter)
  • “He was so concerned about the waste he called the council.” (reporter)

[31]  In fact, the complainant said, Watercare was not mentioned in the item until after the pre-recorded element, when the presenter introduced the interview with its duty manager, at which point, it argued, the misleading claims and unfair, misdirected criticism of the company began. The complainant maintained that calling Watercare and calling the council were different processes as they involved “ringing different numbers and speaking with different people who represent different organisations”. It said that this was reinforced by an article published in the “Western Leader”.

[32]  Watercare reiterated that it had subsequently checked its records which confirmed that it had not received any calls from the resident between November 1 and 13. It considered the new claim that a complaint was made “a year ago” to be even “less credible” given that, prior to 1 November 2010, it was not responsible for retail water supply. It said that, in the Glen Eden area, retail water supply would have been the responsibility of the Waitakere City Council. With regard to the broadcaster’s contention that it was advised by the Auckland City Council that Watercare was the correct body to approach for a water leak, the complainant said that this was “as perplexing as it is incorrect”, as the Auckland City Council no longer existed.

[33]  The complainant maintained that its duty manager was “ambushed” with the “new claim” during the interview. In summary, Watercare argued that the Close Up item was a “sloppy and highly damaging” broadcast which confused two different entities.

[34]  Turning to Standard 6, the complainant maintained that it had been treated unfairly as it was “ridiculed on the basis of the inaccuracies contained in the broadcast”, and was not given a sufficient opportunity to the check the allegations prior to the interview. It contended that, as a responsible organisation, it had treated TVNZ’s claims as valid and “fronted up” to the allegations as requested. It had not insisted on a pre-recorded interview, it said.

[35]  Watercare considered that the broadcast was unfair in the following respects:

  • TVNZ’s initial email requesting it to participate in the item was misleading (the email said that the resident had called Watercare, while in the broadcast he said that he had called the council)
  • the presenter asserted that the company was hypocritical in encouraging water conservation when it had repeatedly failed to fix a leak which it knew about “a year ago”; and
  • the presenter stated that Watercare had “fallen down on the job”, and was “a bit of a joke”.

[36]  The complainant reiterated that the inaccuracies in the item impinged its reputation and undermined its credibility. It said that the “heavy handed editorial approach taken by Close Up... culminated in the presenter ridiculing the company and its performance”.

[37]  Turning to Standard 9, Watercare considered that it was “disingenuous” to say that the item did not contain footage of water being consumed “directly” from the storm-water drain. Despite the use of a container, the item clearly stated that the water was safe to drink, which was incorrect and contrary to the interests of child viewers, it argued. The complainant endorsed the opinion of the water expert who considered that it was reckless to show individuals drinking water from a storm-water drain, especially with regard to children.

[38]  Watercare maintained that Standards 5, 6 and 9 had been breached.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[39]  TVNZ said that the Auckland Council (not the Auckland City Council as stated in its decision) had confirmed, in March 2011, that Watercare was the appropriate body to call for the type of fault in issue. It said that the men in the item were not clear in their distinction between the council and Watercare. It noted that one of the residents stated, “Well it’s just wastage, I mean to say they send me a water bill every year and I’ve got to pay for my rates. It’s pure, utterly, utter waste.” The broadcaster said that water bills came from Watercare and not the council, which showed that the men used the terms “interchangeably”. It noted that both the presenter and reporter made references to the council throughout the item, which showed that Close Up held both organisations responsible.

[40]  The broadcaster maintained that the men in the item had informed Close Up that they had reported the leak to Watercare. It stated, “clearly at least one complaint did make it through to Watercare as they were fixing the fault.” It noted that during the interview, the presenter asked the duty manager whether the water leaking from the pipe was “tested before”, and the duty manager informed him that samples were tested but were inconclusive as to the exact source of the water. In the broadcaster’s view, this exchange showed that Watercare had been to the site of the leak at least once before the interview, and indicated that the men did call Watercare “at least some of the times”. It stated, “The Close Up item shares the responsibility [for not responding to calls about the leak] with the council and Watercare”. It said that the item was not “definitive” about the calls being made to Watercare and “allowed room for doubt on this issue”. The broadcaster reiterated its view that Watercare’s representative was given a sufficient opportunity to present the complainant’s perspective.

[41]  With regard to fairness, TVNZ argued that the duty manager was not “ambushed” as he was informed that he was going to be interviewed about the water leak. It said that claims that a call was made to Watercare “a year ago” were not put in absolute terms and that viewers would have understood this. For example, it noted the following language used with regard to the claim:

  • “...because if that’s right [that a call was made a year ago]...” (presenter)
  • “I am not aware of any calls being logged at Watercare over a year ago.” (duty manager)

[42]  TVNZ argued that the complainant was not “ridiculed on the basis of the inaccuracy on the part of TVNZ”. It asserted that the presenter’s comment that Watercare was “a bit of a joke” related to the duty manager’s comments about whether the water was town supply or wastewater. It stated, “Watercare’s position on this point changes over the interview from definitely wastewater to inconclusive... after questioning by Close Up”. The broadcaster did not consider that the presenter’s statement that Watercare had “fallen down on the job” was unduly harsh in the circumstances. It maintained that the duty manager was given ample opportunity to respond to this point.

[43]  Turning to children’s interests, TVNZ noted that the Authority had acknowledged on numerous occasions that Close Up was an unclassified news and current affairs programme targeted at adults.1 It reiterated that the item did not show the men drinking from the storm-water drain, and considered that, to a child viewer, the drinking of water from a container was far removed from, and was not the same as, drinking directly from a drain. It said that the men did not advocate drinking storm-water, or from drains. The broadcaster reiterated that Close Up screened during the PGR time-band, and that it was therefore reasonable to expect adult supervision.

[44]  The broadcaster maintained that Standards 5, 6 and 9 were not breached.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[45]  The complainant maintained Watercare and the council were separate organisations with different phone numbers, staff and legal responsibilities, and that TVNZ was incorrect to say that the organisations were “interchangeable”. It did not consider that there was widespread confusion with regard to the distinction in Auckland, but said that if there was, TVNZ had the opportunity to clarify the position through accurate reporting. It reiterated that, during the item, the resident did not claim that he had called Watercare in November or “a year ago”, but repeatedly stated that he had called the council. In the complainant’s view, it was irrelevant whether the Auckland City Council or Auckland Council confirmed that Watercare was the correct body to call with regard to complaints about leaking water pipes. It argued that the broadcaster misdirected its unfair criticism to Watercare without doing any apparent research.

[46]  Watercare disputed the broadcaster’s assertion that the item placed responsibility for the leak with both Watercare and the council. It said that it was misled by the programme producer who claimed, in her email, that a resident had called Watercare on five separate occasions to complain about the leak but was told that there was nothing that could be done about it. It was on the basis of this misinformation that Watercare agreed to be interviewed, it said. The complainant noted that the broadcast began by criticising the council before redirecting its “attack” on Watercare during the interview with its duty manager.

[47]  Watercare accepted that it had received at least one complaint about the leaking water pipe and that it had been to the site prior to the interview. The complaint was made on 2 February 2011, 48 hours before the item was broadcast, it said, and this was responded to “promptly”.

[48]  The complainant maintained that the inaccuracies in the item resulted in unfairness to the company, and to its duty manager personally because he was ambushed with the new allegation that a complaint had been made to Watercare “a year ago” during the “as live” interview. Had Watercare been advised of the allegation in advance, the company could have checked its records and identified the correct local network operator responsible for retail water services at that time, it said. Watercare disagreed that viewers would have been left with the impression that the accusations were “not absolute”, as alleged by the broadcaster. It considered that the presenter was absolute in his assertions that the company was “a bit of a joke” and had “fallen down on the job”. The complainant argued that it was ridiculed based on the factual errors contained in the item. In response to TVNZ’s contention that its duty manager was unable to say whether the leaking water was town supply or wastewater, it noted that, at the time of the broadcast, the analysis that had been carried out was inconclusive, as its duty manager explained during the interview.

[49]  Watercare reiterated its arguments with regard to the alleged breach of Standard 9. It asserted that TVNZ had not properly considered the interests of child viewers and was not mindful of the item’s affect on children.  

[50]  The complainant maintained that Standards 5, 6 and 9 had been breached.

Authority’s Determination

[51]  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.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[52]  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.

[53]  On this occasion, the primary issue is whether the item was inaccurate or misleading by creating the impression that complaints were made to Watercare in February (“a year ago”) and November 2010, and that Watercare had failed to respond to those complaints. The accuracy or otherwise of this impression depends on whether Watercare and the council were “intrinsically linked” so that most viewers would not have distinguished between the two organisations in the context of the issue being discussed.

[54]  We note that, during the first part of the item, the reporter and residents made the following references to the council:

  • “The worst thing is, they’ve told the council five times and nothing has been done.” (presenter)
  • “[resident’s name] was so concerned about the leak that he called the council... he sat and waited but no one came.” (reporter)
  • “...I’ve got a problem over there with the council.” (resident)
  • “[residents’] decided to test the water to see what the council was happily pouring down the drain.” (reporter)
  • “We found out it was drinking water, so I immediately called the council again.” (resident)
  • “two months and five calls to the council later, the water is still pouring out of the pipe.” (reporter)

[55]  This was immediately followed by an interview with a representative from Watercare. The presenter stated, “Guess what, Watercare were out there today and so a short time ago I talked to duty [operations] manager, [Name]”. During the interview, the presenter questioned the duty manager about the complaints, stating, “...why weren’t you there a year ago?”, and, “But it’s not just November... [the resident] said he rang Watercare a year ago.” The presenter asserted that, in light of the company’s water conservation policies, its alleged failure to respond to the complaints meant that it had “fallen down on the job” and made it “look like a bit of a joke”.

[56]  In our view, the item essentially suggested that the council and Watercare were the same organisation for the purposes of receiving and dealing with complaints about water leaks. Although Watercare was not mentioned during the first part of the item, in which numerous references were made to “the council”, the presenter then attributed blame for not responding to the complaints to Watercare. Viewers were told that Watercare had received complaints in February (“a year ago”) and November 2010, which it had failed to respond to.  

[57]  Watercare argued that a subsequent check of its phone logs established that it had not received any calls about the leak in November 2010. With respect to the complaint “a year ago”, it noted that Watercare was not responsible for retail water supply prior to 1 November 2010.

[58]  TVNZ argued that Watercare and the council were “intrinsically linked” so that viewers would not have distinguished between the two organisations for the purposes of the broadcast. Also, it said that the men in the item had informed Close Up that they had spoken to Watercare.

[59]  While the complainant’s website states that it is a council organisation, wholly owned by the Auckland Council, we note that Watercare is a limited liability company with its own board, chairman, chief executive and employees. Importantly, Watercare has its own contact centre and faults logging processes which are separate from those of the council. On this basis, we agree with Watercare that “a complaint to one does not equal a complaint to the other.”

[60]  Accordingly, we find that the impression created that complaints had been made to Watercare in February and November 2010 and that Watercare had failed to respond to those complaints, was inaccurate and misleading.

[61]  Having found that the Close Up item was inaccurate and misleading in this respect, we must now consider whether TVNZ made “reasonable efforts” to ensure that the item was accurate and did not mislead. Whether a broadcaster has made “reasonable efforts” depends entirely on the circumstances of each case.

[62]  At the outset, we acknowledge that responsibility for retail water supply in the Auckland region is not a straightforward matter. Recent restructuring of local government to establish the new Auckland Council, or “supercity”, has resulted in the transfer of service delivery responsibilities from local councils to Council Controlled Organisations. As part of the restructuring, responsibility for retail water delivery in the Glen Eden area was transferred from the former Waitakere City Council to Watercare on 1 November 2010.

[63]  Taking this into account, we recognise some confusion on the part of TVNZ about the agency responsible for retail water delivery at the time the complaints were made. We consider that the broadcaster should have been able to clarify this itself prior to the broadcast. However, because Watercare was responsible for the delivery of retail water at the time of the broadcast, we consider that TVNZ, in inviting the complainant to appear on Close Up, made “reasonable efforts” to ensure that the item was accurate and did not mislead. TVNZ had the right to rely on Watercare to explain the situation, and Watercare was given the opportunity to clarify that it was not responsible for retail water delivery prior to 1 November 2010.

[64]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold this part of the Standard 5 complaint.

[65]  The complainant also argued that it was inaccurate to state that Watercare had “fallen down on the job” and that its delay in responding to the November complaint made it “look like a bit of a joke”. We find that these statements clearly amounted to commentary and are therefore exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a to Standard 5.

[66]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item was inaccurate or misleading in this respect.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[67]  Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

[68]  Watercare argued that it had been treated unfairly in the item because “false claims” were levelled against it and it was given little or no opportunity for checking or rebuttal. It said that its duty manager was “ambushed” during the interview with a new claim that a complaint had been made to Watercare “a year ago”. The complainant considered that if Watercare had been advised of the allegation in advance, it could have checked its records and identified the correct local network operator responsible for retail water services at that time.

[69]  We note that Watercare received an invitation, on the day of the broadcast, to appear on Close Up that night to address complaints that it had not responded to calls about a leaking water pipe which it had allegedly been informed about on 6 November 2010. The complainant accepted the invitation and its duty manager was interviewed at the site of the leak later that afternoon, approximately two hours before the edited item was broadcast.

[70]  As noted above (at paragraph [62]), responsibility for the supply of retail water in the Glen Eden area was transferred from the former Waitakere City Council to Watercare on 1 November 2010. In these circumstances, we consider that Watercare should have been aware that as the complaint was alleged to have been made within days of the transfer, there was a possibility that the allegations were incorrect. In this context, we consider that the complainant was given sufficient information, prior to the broadcast, to enable it to answer the allegations being made against it.

[71]  The invitation to appear on the programme did not mention that a complaint had allegedly been made to Watercare “a year ago”, and this was first put to its duty manager during the interview. However, we consider that, given the complainant was not responsible for retail water delivery “a year ago”, it should have been immediately obvious to Watercare’s duty manager, that this could not possibly have been correct.

[72]  In these circumstances, we consider that both Watercare and its duty manager were treated fairly by the broadcaster. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 6 was breached.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[73]  Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm.

[74]  The complainant argued that showing adults collecting and drinking “apparently clean-looking water” from a storm-water drain and identifying that behaviour as “safe and acceptable” was “highly irresponsible, dangerous and contrary to the interests of children”.

[75]  We note that Close Up was an unclassified current affairs programme targeted at adults and that children were unlikely to be watching unsupervised. In any event, we do not consider that the item encouraged children to drink water from storm-water drains, as alleged by the complainant. The footage simply showed two adults consuming water from a container (not directly from the drain) after it had been tested for the presence of chlorine to show that it was town supply and not wastewater. There was no reference to children, and we consider that the significance of the water being chlorinated would have gone over the heads of younger viewers.

[76]  Accordingly, we find that the broadcaster adequately considered the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times and we decline to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
8 July 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Watercare Services Ltd’s formal complaint – 7 February 2011

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 8 March 2011

3                 Watercare’s referral to the Authority – 4 April 2011

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 27 May 2011

5                 Watercare’s final comment – 14 June 2011


1See, for example, Irwin and TVNZ, Decision No. 2010-087; Bibby and TVNZ, Decision 2010-062, Costilinis and Others and TVNZ, Decision No. 2009-069; Painter and Taylor and TVNZ, Decision No. 2009-155