BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Young and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2007-003

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

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item reporting research that men who were not circumcised were three times more likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease than those who were – allegedly unbalanced

Standard 4 (balance) – item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An item on 3 News, broadcast on 7 November 2006 at 6pm on TV3, reported that research carried out by the Christchurch School of Medicine had revealed that men who were not circumcised were three times more likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease than those who were. The reporter said that the study had followed 500 males from birth to 25 years of age.

[2]  The item included comments from the research director, David Fergusson, who said that the research had sparked debate among paediatric specialists. It also featured comments from three mothers about circumcision. At the conclusion of the item, the reporter said:

Any parent in favour of circumcision can now call on compelling research to support their case.


[3]  Hugh Young made a formal complaint about the item to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster. He said that the reporter’s concluding remark was not warranted given the facts available. Mr Young noted that the research referred to in the item had been published in the journal Paediatrics, and since then, several letters had been published in the same journal. The complainant said that David Fergusson had replied to those letters, writing:

Recent correspondence to the journal has highlighted the fact that our findings are not consistent with cross-sectional studies of the linkages between circumcision and the more common forms of STI…These discrepancies with our findings are too large to be disregarded, and we are of the view that it would be premature to use our findings to promote the view that circumcision reduces risks of less severe forms of STI, until further research clarifying this issue is conducted…

[4]  Mr Young stated that he had advised TV3 of this new information, but it had not broadcast a correction. He contended that this breached Standard 4 (balance).


[5]  CanWest assessed the complaint under Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, 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

[6]  CanWest summarised the complainant’s concern as being that the report did not sufficiently explain his contrary view. The broadcaster maintained that the balance standard did not apply to the item, as the circumcision of baby boys was not a controversial issue of public importance. It declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[7]  Dissatisfied with CanWest’s response, Mr Young referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He said that his complaint was not that the item “did not explain his contrary view”, but that the reporter’s conclusion was not supported because Mr Fergusson himself had agreed that the research was not “compelling” evidence.

[8]  Mr Young also maintained that the circumcision of boys was a controversial issue, and was of public importance. Even if this was not the case, he wrote, sexually transmitted infections were undoubtedly of public importance, and therefore so was a measure claiming to prevent their transmission. Furthermore, the complainant added that if the whole topic was of no importance, it would not have been on a 3 News broadcast.

Authority's Determination

[9]  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.

[10]  Standard 4 requires that balance be provided when controversial issues of public importance are discussed. On this occasion, while the circumcision of male children is clearly a controversial issue, the Authority considers that the item did not purport to be a discussion of the pros and cons of circumcision. Instead, it presented the research findings from the Christchurch School of Medicine in a factual way, including comments from the research director, David Fergusson, and off-the-cuff remarks from three mothers. The reporter's concluding statement, which was the focus of Mr Young's complaint, was intended to be an accurate and memorable wrap-up to the brief item.

[11]  Because the item focused narrowly on the research findings, the Authority concludes that the programme did not discuss the controversial issue of circumcision for the purposes of Standard 4. Since no controversial issue of public importance was discussed, the balance standard is not relevant and 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
23 March 2007


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

1    Hugh Young’s formal complaint – not dated

2    CanWest’s decision on the formal complaint – 22 December 2006

3    Mr Young’s referral to the Authority – 8 January 2007

4    CanWest’s response to the Authority – 7 February 2007