Zarifeh, on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group, and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1999-106
- S R Maling (Chair)
- J Withers
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- Helen Zarifeh, on behalf
ProgrammeOne Network News
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
In a news item containing a broad description of events then occurring in the Middle East, Hizbollah fighters were described as "terrorists". The item was broadcast on One Network News on 1 March 1999 beginning at 6.00pm.
On behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group, Ms Zarifeh complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the description was inaccurate and contrary to TVNZ’s own previously stated policy of not describing Hizbollah fighters as terrorists.
While acknowledging that policy, TVNZ said that the item on this occasion was prepared by an overseas reporter. Because of the journalistic quality of the item overall, TVNZ stated, it had exercised editorial judgement in broadcasting the piece although it did not conform precisely to its own policy. Moreover, TVNZ contended that in the specific context of the item the use of the word "terrorists" to describe the Hizbollah fighters was arguably correct. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Zarifeh referred the Group’s complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. Given the matters raised on this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
The correspondence from the complainant included reference to formal – but not upheld - complaints about items broadcast by TVNZ on 29 October 1998, 12 December 1998 and 1 March 1999. However, the referrals of the first two of these to the Authority was well outside the 20 working day time limit imposed by the Broadcasting Act 1989. Accordingly, the Authority has dealt only with the complaint which complied with the statutory time limits - the item broadcast on 1 March 1999.
The item broadcast on One Network News on 1 March referred to Hizbollah fighters as "terrorists". Noting that TVNZ had upheld a formal complaint about the use of this term in a broadcast on 17 November 1998 as a breach of broadcasting standards, Helen Zarifeh on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group complained that the item on 1 March also infringed the standards.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under standard G14 of Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which reads:
G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.
Acknowledging that it was contrary to its policy to describe Hizbollah fighters as "terrorists", TVNZ advised that, on this occasion, the description was used by an overseas reporter in the context of a broad description of events then occurring in the Middle East. It continued:
The choice faced by the broadcaster in these circumstances is to either go ahead with the item, including a single word which would not be used by our own reporters, or to drop it because of that one word. Editorial judgement comes into play and the decision to go ahead or not depends on the journalistic quality of the item overall.
On this occasion we believe the item was a very thorough, fair and comprehensive report marred only by the single word "terrorists". We would go so far as to suggest that your group would be less than happy if TVNZ were to adopt a policy of setting aside such well-balanced pieces because a single aspect may not conform with TVNZ policy.
Pointing out that it would be impractical to ask each supplier to conform to every aspect of its policy, TVNZ said on some occasions the overall content justified the broadcast of some material which did not conform precisely to its policy.
TVNZ also noted that in the specific context in which the word "terrorists" was used on this occasion, it was arguable that the use was correct. While reporting that its policy overall remained not to use the word "terrorists" to describe members of the Hizbollah, TVNZ did not accept that its use on this occasion contravened the standard.
It declined to uphold the complaint.
When she referred the Group’s complaint to the Authority, Ms Zarifeh considered that it was extraordinary that TVNZ did not use the technology it possessed to edit and to remove material which breached its policy. Referring to the correspondence between the Group and TVNZ which accompanied the referral, Ms Zarifeh contended that it showed that TVNZ was not taking the Group’s complaints seriously. TVNZ had now used a spurious ground to disclaim responsibility, she wrote.
In its report to the Authority, TVNZ described the Group’s assertion about editing the term as naïve. TVNZ wrote:
It would not have been possible to do this without revoicing the item here, thus removing the authenticity of the original report. Given that the blemish was not, in our view, of great moment, the decision was made to proceed with a news item which provided a very comprehensive description of events then occurring in the Middle East.
TVNZ also repeated the point that, arguably, the term "terrorists" was not inappropriate in this case.
In the Group’s final comment, Ms Zarifeh asked the Authority to assess for itself whether or not editing would be simple.
The Authority notes TVNZ’s policy not to describe the Hizbollah fighters as terrorists. TVNZ has explained that the wording complained about was in an item prepared by an overseas reporter which gave a broad description of events occurring in the Middle East.
This context is central to the Authority’s decision. It does not accept that the broadcast of material from overseas sources, in itself, excuses a broadcaster from its responsibilities to comply with broadcasting standards. However, as the description of Hizbollah fighters was a relatively insignificant aspect of what it accepts as a competent survey of current events, and the description may in this instance have some validity, the Authority does not consider that the usage in this context contravened the standards.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
29 July 1999
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority in determining this complaint.
1. The Wellington Palestine Group’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd about an
item on One Network News on 18 November 1998 – 20 November 1998
2. TVNZ’s Response to a Formal Complaint about an item on One Network News on
29 October 1998 – 8 December 1998
3. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint about the One Network News item on
17 November 1998 – 8 December 1998
4. The Group’s Letter to TVNZ about its Response to the Complaint about the
29 October item – 18 December 1998
5. The Group’s Formal Complaint about an item on One Network News on 1 March 1999 –
18 March 1999
6. TVNZ’s Response to 18 December Letter – 24 March 1999
7. The Group’s Further Comment on the Decision on the 29 October 1998 item –
31 March 1999
8. TVNZ’s Response to Formal Complaint about 1 March item – 12 April 1999
9. TVNZ’s Response to the Group’s Further Comment about 29 October item –
12 April 1999
10. The Group’s Informal Complaint to TVNZ about a One Network News item on 26 April 1999 –
7 May 1999
11. The Group’s Referral to the Authority of TVNZ’s Responses to the Complaints about the
items on One Network News on 29 October 1998, 12 December 1998, and
1 March 1999 – 7 May 1999
12. TVNZ’s Response to the Referral of the Complaint about the item on 1 March 1999,
and Declining to Comment on the Referral of the other two items as time barred –
27 May 1999
13. The Group’s Final Comment on the 1 March 1999 item – 14 June 1999