BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Adelphi Finance Ltd and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1998-093

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • L M Loates
  • J Withers
Dated
Complainant
  • Adelphi Finance Ltd
Number
1998-093
Programme
Holmes
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

An item broadcast on Holmes on TV One on 15 December 1997 focussed on two teenage girls whose mother had died, owing about $2,000 to Adelphi Finance. The broadcast related how the girls’ father had moved in to care for them and how, shortly after, furniture in their house had been repossessed on behalf of that company.

Adelphi Finance Ltd, through its solicitors, complained to Television New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the item was factually inaccurate, distorted the actual events, was unbalanced and partial, and presented a misleading impression of both the complainant and the circumstances of the repossession.

TVNZ responded that the complainant was given every opportunity to present its side and to have it included in the item. Further, it noted that a studio summation of the complainant’s case was included at the end of the broadcast. TVNZ denied that the item was either unbalanced, unfair, distorted or inaccurate.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Adelphi Finance Ltd, through its solicitors, referred its complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaint that the item was in breach of standard G6 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice and imposes an order to broadcast a summary of this decision. The Authority declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about, and have read the correspondence (which is summarised in the Appendix). On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

The Holmes programme on TV One on 15 December 1997, broadcast between 7.00–7.30 pm, contained an item about the repossession of some furniture from a house by Adelphi Finance some four days before the programme was broadcast. It reported that the occupants of the house were absent at the time of the repossession. One of the former occupants, a woman who had died some seven weeks before the repossession, had used the furniture as security for a loan provided by the complainant. The item focussed on the deceased woman’s two teenage daughters and the effect upon them of the repossession, shortly after their mother’s death and just before Christmas.

The Complaint

Adelphi Finance Ltd of Wellington complained through its solicitors to TVNZ about the item. It complained that the broadcast was inaccurate on points of fact, and was edited so as to distort the actual events which had occurred. In particular, it wrote, the impression created by the programme was that the complainant company had seized the furniture and caused hardship to the family by continuing to hold it. It complained that the impression given was that the company had not previously discussed the matter with the family, and had acted callously and to the family’s disadvantage, without consideration for its recent bereavement.

In fact, the complainant stated, when it became aware of the woman’s death, it had advised the children’s father, some seven weeks before the broadcast, of some documents needed to deal with the loan. Further, it stated, another family member had made arrangements to maintain the payments on the loan. The company advised that no payments had in fact been made, and despite further efforts on its part, there had been no response from the family. Therefore, it stated, it had had little option but to repossess the security, which was the furniture.

Adelphi criticised the programme’s failure to mention at any time that the chattels had been returned the day after they had been repossessed. By then, it wrote, satisfactory arrangements for payment of the debt had been made. Adelphi stressed that the furniture had been returned before the programme was broadcast, and that had been known to the programme makers before the programme went to air. The misleading impression created by the programme, the complainant stressed, was corroborated by calls made to and reported in the programme, by people who had donated money and furniture to the family.

The Response to the Complaint

TVNZ assessed the complaint under standards G1, G4, G6, G7, G14 and G19 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The first four require broadcasters:

G1 To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

G7 To avoid the use of any deceptive programme practice in the presentation of programmes which takes advantage of the confidence viewers have in the integrity of broadcasting.

G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.

G4 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any programme.

The other standards read

G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.

G19 Care must be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure that the extracts used are a true reflection and not a distortion of the original event or the overall views expressed.

Noting that the programme focussed on the two teenage girls whose mother had died, the broadcaster replied that the item raised issues about the way in which the complainant had acted. The complainant, TVNZ wrote, was given every opportunity to put its side of the story and have it included in the broadcast. It was advised on five occasions that the story would be broadcast. Only one hour before the item was broadcast, TVNZ claimed, did a representative of the complainant contact it and provide it with an account from the complainant’s point of view. Because it was then too late to incorporate an interview into the programme, TVNZ wrote, it was agreed to include a studio piece, read by the presenter, at the end of the item. That studio piece had been checked with the complainant before it was presented.

Responding to Adelphi’s complaint that the broadcast failed to acknowledge that the furniture had been returned promptly to the family, TVNZ wrote that the programme reported that the complainant had reached agreement with the girls’ father, through his lawyer. That report, the broadcaster contended, implied that the matter had been settled. Further, it stressed, the complainant had been given every opportunity to take part in the programme. Had it accepted, TVNZ argued, it could then have placed whatever emphasis it wanted on that aspect of the story.

The broadcaster denied that any statements in the item were "provably inaccurate" and in breach of standard G1. It stressed that standard G4 had not been breached, for the complainant had been given every opportunity to answer criticism. The item did not breach standard G6, TVNZ contended, as the family’s position was made clear, and a counter-opinion was provided in the presentation of the studio piece. The broadcaster also declined to uphold any breaches of standards G7, G14 or G19.

The Referral to the Authority

The complainant company, when referring the complaint to the Authority, emphasised that the broadcaster had been informed three days before the broadcast that satisfactory arrangements had been made for the return of the furniture that day. Further, it wrote, that was reiterated to TVNZ on the day of the broadcast. Despite that, Adelphi claimed, the programme was broadcast with the actual facts of the event being reported both inaccurately and in a distorted manner. Through its solicitors, it wrote:

One of the most damaging implications in the broadcast was that Adelphi was continuing to hold the furniture, causing considerable hardship to [the family]. This implication is corroborated by the calls to [the programme], which were reported in the reaction to the story, with the published reaction that people donated furniture and money to [the family]. There was no mention at any time that Adelphi has returned the furniture … or that [the family] were without the furniture for only one day.

TVNZ’s obligation to report matters accurately and without distortion was not addressed, the complainant wrote, by giving it an opportunity to appear on the programme. Even if it did not use the opportunity, it wrote, then that was not a licence to TVNZ to distort the true facts.

Adelphi claimed the programme had implied that it had acted without consideration for the family’s bereavement. That, it stressed, was not supported by the actual events. The programme’s interviews with the children, the presenter’s introduction and conclusion, and the reporter’s comments were presented, Adelphi contended, as representative of the actual events. The "horrendous" picture painted was not, it argued, balanced by the final studio piece, for by then the damage had been done.

In a final comment to the Authority, the complainant reiterated that it was contacted by a representative of TVNZ three days before the broadcast. Then, it stressed, it advised TVNZ that a satisfactory arrangement had been reached involving the return of the furniture that day. It also referred the TVNZ representative to the solicitor acting for the family. Adelphi argued that TVNZ knew the chattels had been returned to the family, and this was confirmed by a programme representative on the day of the broadcast, who had told Adelphi that he was aware of their return.

The complainant continued that in terms of the broadcaster’s responsibility to ensure fairness and balance, the studio piece was insufficient to balance the horrendous picture which was conveyed by the broadcast. The statement of Adelphi’s representative in the studio piece was not fairly summarised, the complainant contended, for it again omitted the critical fact that the furniture had been returned. No lateness in response from Adelphi justified its unfair treatment in the broadcast, it stressed.

The Response to the Referral

In its response, TVNZ stressed that its first contact with the complainant was four days before the broadcast of the item, the day on which Adelphi removed the furniture. On that day, the broadcaster stressed, Adelphi’s representative told TVNZ’s reporter that the company did not discuss individual cases with the media. TVNZ maintained that it was not informed by Adelphi of "a satisfactory arrangement" involving the return of the furniture, before the evening of the broadcast. It strongly denied that there was any other contact between it and the complainant until the day of the broadcast. It wrote:

To suggest, as the complainant does … that "Adelphi had on several occasions detailed to TVNZ the circumstances surrounding the repossession of the furniture and its return" is simply not true.

The broadcaster emphasised the lengths to which it went to secure comment from the complainant prior to the broadcast. Those efforts, it wrote, culminated in its incorporating the studio piece at the end of the item. That studio piece resulted from Adelphi’s belated response, one hour before the programme, to TVNZ’s attempts to secure comment from it, TVNZ contended.

TVNZ, in a response to the final comment, advised that a full check with each member of staff involved in the programme had left it satisfied that none had spoken with an Adelphi representative three days before the broadcast. It also reiterated that the item was a proper matter of public interest and fairly reported, because the family’s furniture was repossessed for twenty-four hours in circumstances which, it considered, did not reflect well on the complainant.

The Authority’s Findings

The Authority considers the essential element of the complaint to be the programme’s failure to acknowledge that the furniture, which had been seized by the company, had been returned to the family before the broadcast, and had in fact only been taken for 24 hours. This, Adelphi argued, was untruthful, inaccurate, unfair and a distortion of the actual events which occurred. Furthermore, it complained, when combined with the implication that it had adopted a rigid and inflexible approach to the debt and was callous in its disregard for the family’s circumstances, the overall impression of the company and its business practice was of "a rapacious financier callously and brutally depriving the children of a disadvantaged family."

The Authority first considers Adelphi’s claim that standard G1 was breached because the item did not portray the facts truthfully and accurately.

It notes that TVNZ maintained that it had not been able to identify any statement which was provably inaccurate, and that it emphasised that the views expressed – which arguably contained some inaccuracies – were the genuinely held opinions of the two daughters.

The Authority accepts that the girls’ opinions were not an entirely accurate summary of the events. However, it recognises that those views were their genuinely-held beliefs, and acknowledges that they were entitled to hold those views. Under these circumstances, the Authority does not consider that standard G1 is applicable to this aspect of the complaint. In the Authority’s view, this is an example of an inaccuracy arising from an omission of a crucial fact. It considers this matter below when it deals with the complaint that the programme was unfair.

Standards G4 and G6 encompass the concepts of fairness. Standard G6 also includes balanced reporting, impartial commentary and objective, fair representation of facts. In the Authority’s view, the fairness element of standard G4 is duplicated on this occasion in standard G6, and it therefore subsumes the standard G4 aspect of the complaint under standard G6.

In the item, the complainant contended, the commentary, reporting and footage were presented to give an unfair picture of the company. That was done, the complainant argued, by the presenter omitting to inform his audience that the furniture had been returned one day after its seizure and before the broadcast of the item. The effect of that omission, the complainant continued, was demonstrated by the fact that viewers had subsequently made donations of money and furniture to the family, in the belief that they had been left destitute.

The Authority concludes that there is sufficient evidence to decide that the presenter’s commentary was unfair. That evidence exists in the admission by TVNZ that it was aware at least an hour before the item was broadcast that the furniture had been returned. Despite that knowledge, it did not specifically refer to that fact at any time during the broadcast. Further evidence exists, in the Authority’s view, in the reported reactions of viewers in making donations for the family’s welfare. The item was unfair, the Authority believes, because it implied that the chattels had been seized by a "rapacious" financier who had acted without contact or prior notice to the affected family, and because it failed to inform its audience that the goods had been returned some three days before the broadcast of the item. The presenter’s introductory comment asking why the complainant hadn’t discussed the issue prior to rushing in "on a grieving family" also misrepresents the fact that Adelphi had first talked with the children’s father seven weeks before the broadcast.

The Authority considers that regardless of whether there was contact between Adelphi and the programme-makers during the day prior to the broadcast, the onus was on the broadcaster to ascertain the facts and present them accurately and fairly. Accordingly, the Authority upholds the complaint that standard G6 was breached.

Next, the Authority turns to the complaint that standard G7 was breached. That standard has been interpreted by the Authority as referring to particular technical practices such as editing techniques which involve deception. It concludes that the standard is not relevant to this complaint. The practices which the complainant alleged were deceptive – such as the omission of crucial facts – have been dealt with above under standard G6.

The complainant also alleged that standard G14 was breached. As that standard duplicates the concepts of standard G6, the Authority has subsumed it under that standard.

Finally, the complainant alleged a breach of standard G19. The Authority does not consider that this standard is applicable to the present complaint, because it pertains to editing practices which distort the original event. Here, it was the accompanying commentary, and the omissions from it, which misled.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds the complaint by Adelphi Finance Ltd that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Limited of an item about the complainant on Holmes on 15 December 1997 breached standard G6 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.

Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make an order under s.13(1) or s.16(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It invited submissions from TVNZ and the complainant on the question of penalty. The Authority has taken their submissions into account in imposing its order.

In this instance, while the Authority does not consider the breach to be extreme, it does consider the presenter’s commentary in the broadcast was unfair. It was unfair because there was evidence that TVNZ knew before the broadcast that the family’s furniture had been returned and did not refer to that fact during the item. Furthermore, in the Authority’s view, that unfairness was also shown by the reported reactions from viewers in making donations for the family’s benefit, which repeated the impression that the furniture had not been returned. The broadcast was also unfair, the Authority considers, because it failed to acknowledge that the complainant had initiated discussion of the issue with the family’s father seven weeks before the broadcast and well in advance of the repossession of the furniture.

In these circumstances the Authority is of the view that an order is appropriate. The following order is imposed.

Order

Pursuant to s.13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders Television New Zealand Limited to broadcast a brief summary of this decision, approved by the Authority, arising from the complaint about an item on Holmes broadcast on TV One on 15 December 1997. The statement shall be broadcast during a Holmes programme within one month of the date of this decision.

Costs

The Authority considers Adelphi Finance’s request for costs. It has the power to award costs under s.16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. In all the circumstances and taking into consideration the submissions made by both parties, the Authority declines to award costs to the complainant.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
27 August 1998

Appendix

Adelphi Finance Ltd’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 26 January 1998

Adelphi Finance Ltd of Wellington, through its solicitors, complained to Television New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, about an item on Holmes on TV One on 15 December 1997, which commenced at 7.00 pm. The item focussed on two girls, aged 16 and 11 years, whose mother had died seven weeks before the programme was broadcast. At the time of her death, the dead woman had an outstanding loan to the complainant company, with approximately $2,000.00 owing. The item related how, four days before the programme, the children’s house (in which they were then living with their father) had been entered, in their absence, and much of the furniture within it had been repossessed on behalf of the complainant as security for its outstanding loan.

The company, through its solicitors, complained that the broadcast was inaccurate on points of fact, and was edited so as to distort the actual events which occurred. It quoted from the introduction to the item, and to some of the statements made by people interviewed during the programme. Referring to the quotations, the company claimed that the effect of those, and the broadcast as a whole, was to assert that it had:

  • rushed into the house and seized the furniture without endeavouring to discuss the debt with the family
  • adopted a rigid and inflexible approach to the debt, acted in a callous and heartless manner and to the deliberate disadvantage of the family
  • acted without consideration of the family’s recent bereavement
  • caused considerable hardship to the family by continuing to hold the furniture.

The company emphasised that such assertions in the programme were "demonstrably inaccurate, and a distortion of the actual events that occurred". It stated that when it became aware of the woman’s death, it advised the children’s father of the need for some documentation to deal with insurance relating to the loan, and that some other arrangements had been made by another family member to maintain the loan. The company advised that, despite further efforts on its part to finalise the matter, no payments were made and:

In the absence of a response from the family, Adelphi considered that it had little option but to repossess. The impression conveyed by the programme that [it] rushed in on a grieving family without any attempt to discuss the problem is completely false.

Furthermore the broadcast failed to mention at any time that the chattels had been returned promptly, as they were. [It] gave the impression that the [family’s] furniture was still being held by Adelphi. This impression is corroborated by the calls to the Holmes programme which were reported in reaction to the story, where people donated furniture and money to the Leatham family. The chattels were repossessed on 11 December 1997. [And they] were returned the following day. The chattels were returned promptly once arrangements for payment of part of the debt were made. The family was without their chattels for one day. The chattels were returned to the family 3 days before the programme was aired. [Adelphi] has reason to believe that the Holmes programme knew that the chattels had been returned, yet this crucial fact was omitted from the broadcast.

Adelphi Finance Ltd also claimed that the programme was not presented in a balanced, fair, objective and impartial manner. It wrote that the tone and words of the introduction by Paul Holmes

…presented a picture of a horrendous act by Adelphi. The programme was framed to portray a rapacious financier callously and brutally depriving the children of a disadvantaged family. The broadcast deliberately distorted the facts surrounding the situation and cynically used the children’s ingenuous remarks in a time of their understandable stress and bereavement.

This lack of balance, the complainant wrote, exacerbated the misleading impression of the company and the circumstances of the repossession which was conveyed by the broadcast.

Noting that the complainant company had been trading in the Wellington area for some 34 years providing finance in a lower socio-economic bracket, Adelphi, through its solicitors, stressed that it took particular care that its customers were not over-committed and treated repossession as a last-resort remedy, and an option, when customers avoided contact and/or would not otherwise enter into any arrangement. It wrote:

Contrary to the suggestions in the programme, in cases of genuine hardship virtually any arrangement is acceptable and there are numerous examples …to substantiate this.

The company sought an apology, and correction of the misleading information which had been portrayed in the programme.

TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 11 February 1998

TVNZ considered the complaint in the context of standards G1, G4, G6, G7, G14 and G19 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

It noted that the programme focussed on the two girls whose thirty-six year old mother had died suddenly. The programme, it wrote, raised issues about the manner in which the complainant company had acted, in view of the family’s bereavement and the close proximity of the yuletide season. The central point of the complaint, the broadcaster claimed, was the position adopted by the complainant company upon becoming aware that the story was being investigated by the Holmes programme. The complainant, TVNZ wrote:

…was given every opportunity to put its side of the story and to have it included in the item as broadcast.

Noting that the complainant had been contacted five times before the programme was broadcast, to seek the company’s position on the item and to remind it that the item was scheduled for broadcast, TVNZ wrote that it was made clear:

…that the story would be broadcast, with or without Adelphi’s comment, and that the longer Adelphi left it, the more difficult it would be to fairly edit their reaction into the story.

Just one hour before the broadcast, …Adelphi telephoned Holmes and gave a producer a full account of events from Adelphi’s point of view. At this stage it was too late to include an interview and it was agreed that the item would be followed by a studio piece in which Paul Holmes would outline the substance of the conversation. We are told that after writing that piece, the producer twice rang [Adelphi] back to ensure that the facts were correct and we understand that [the representative] seemed content with the proposed form of words.

TVNZ contended that it would stifle debate on issues of public importance to hold that a current affairs item, dealing with something controversial, should not be broadcast if a participant to the controversy declined to take part. The broadcaster referred to a passage in Decision No. 1996-175/176 of the Broadcasting Standards Authority where it stated:

Unwillingness of the company to respond does not preclude the investigation continuing and, since the company’s representatives were given an opportunity to respond, the Authority considers that (in this case) the requirement for balance was satisfied.

Agreeing that the introduction to the item on the programme was critical of Adelphi’s approach and suggested that there was a certain lack of compassion and goodwill in its dealings with the family, TVNZ quoted the contents of a letter written to the dead woman by Adelphi some seven weeks after her death, and well after it had been told that she had died. That, the broadcaster contended, indicated a certain lack of sensitivity on the company’s part.

In response to the complainant’s criticism of the programme’s use of the children’s remarks, the broadcaster responded that these accurately reflected their views and understandings at the time of the programme. Claiming that the programme was entitled to carry genuinely-held opinions by people involved in an issue, TVNZ agreed that the result would have been "tidier" if an interview with the complainant could have been obtained. However, it believed, the studio summation provided the necessary balance.

Referring to the studio piece which summarised the conversation between the programme’s producer and the company’s representative and which was presented at the end of the item, the broadcaster stressed that the implication that the company had acted hastily in seizing the family’s furniture was fair.

Dealing with Adelphi’s complaint that the programme did not acknowledge that the chattels had been returned promptly, the broadcaster stated that the programme:

…reported that "Adelphi had reached agreement with Mr Leatham through his lawyer" – implying surely that the matter had been settled ? In any case [Adelphi] was given every opportunity to take part in the item during which [it] could have placed whatever emphasis [it] wished on this aspect of the story.

Referring to standard G1, TVNZ denied that any statement in the programme was provably inaccurate. The statements on which the complainant had concentrated were, the broadcaster alleged, in fact genuinely-held opinions of the bereaved daughters of the deceased woman. Counter opinion was provided, TVNZ wrote, by the studio piece which had followed the item.

Denying, in reference to standard G4, that the item was unfair, TVNZ stressed that Adelphi had been given every opportunity to take part in the programme and to answer the criticisms raised. Its very late response was, the broadcaster wrote, fully summarised in the statement by the presenter at the end of the item.

In relation to standard G6, TVNZ claimed that the programme was not unbalanced, for the bereaved family’s position was made clear and the complainant’s belated response was included in the studio summary.

No deceptive programme practice was employed, TVNZ wrote, in relation to standard G7. It subsumed standard G14 under standards G1, G5 and G6 and reiterated that there was no breach.

Dealing with standard G19, TVNZ observed that the item was edited to accurately and truly reflect the view of the family, the subject of its focus, and had to be edited without knowledge of the position of Adelphi. It wrote:

While the programme may have been constructed differently had [Adelphi] agreed to appear in the item, [its] view was given generous space in the studio statement read after the item.

It declined to find a breach of any of the nominated standards.

Adelphi Finance Ltd’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 13 March 1998

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Adelphi Finance Ltd, through its solicitors, referred its complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Adelphi, its solicitors wrote, had advised TVNZ three days before the broadcast that a satisfactory arrangement had been reached involving the return of the chattels on that day. That was confirmed by another representative of Adelphi on the day of the broadcast, and a representative of TVNZ had acknowledged to Adelphi that he was aware that the chattels had been returned to the family three days earlier. The solicitors also emphasised that the broadcaster had been informed that the chattels had been returned, even though no money had been paid under the outstanding loan, because satisfactory arrangements had been made to settle the matter.

Adelphi reiterated that the programme breached standards G1, G4, G5, G6, G7, G14 and G19 in particular. It quoted numerous statements from the transcript of the item spoken by the presenter in the studio, by the programme’s reporter, and by members of the dead woman’s family who were interviewed during the programme. These, the complainant alleged, were inaccurate and/or distorted, sometimes directly, sometimes by implication, and sometimes by the omission of crucial facts. It repeated the series of assertions made in the item which it claimed were inaccurate and distorted the actual events.

Referring specifically to TVNZ’s response to the complainant’s return of the chattels to the family, Adelphi stated that it was not a matter of the emphasis which could have been provided to the programme by a company representative appearing on it. It was:

…a matter of TVNZ being inaccurate and distorting the actual facts. One of the most damaging implications in the broadcast was that Adelphi was continuing to hold the furniture, causing considerable hardship to the Leatham family. This implication is corroborated by the calls to the Holmes programme, which were reported in the reaction to the story, with the published reaction that people donated furniture and money to the Leatham family. There was no mention at any time that Adelphi has returned the furniture to the Leathams or that the Leathams were without the furniture for only one day. The fact that the chattels were returned to the Leathams was known to TVNZ yet the broadcast plainly omits to report this fact – a fact which is most critical to the programme and viewers’ impression of Adelphi.

The broadcaster’s obligation to report matters accurately and without distortion was not, the complainant wrote, addressed by giving Adelphi the opportunity to appear on the programme. If Adelphi did not avail itself of the opportunity, that was not a licence to TVNZ to distort the true facts. The broadcaster knew that the furniture had been returned three days before the broadcast, yet, wrote the complainant, it broadcast the item presenting a contrary impression.

The implications of the way in which the complainant acted without consideration of the family’s bereavement were not, Adelphi wrote, supported by the actual events. These impressions were given, not only by the children’s interviews, but also by the presenter’s introduction and conclusion, and the reporter’s comments. The comments went, it contended:

…further than expressing the opinion of the family, rather these comments are presented as being representative of the actual events. At no time did TVNZ question or challenge the family about these opinions so as to distill the true nature of the events which had occurred.

The complainant reiterated that the broadcast was not balanced, fair, objective or impartial in its opening introduction, in its presentation of a rapacious financier, in its distortion of the facts, and in its use of the children’s remarks. The studio piece, it claimed, did not balance the horrendous picture which had been conveyed, for the damage had been done. Referring to the broadcaster’s reference to the Authority’s Decision No. 1996-175/176, Adelphi noted that the case in question there had involved the giving of an opportunity to respond as sufficient to provide balance. Here, it wrote, the case was different. In the 1996 case, the:

…applicant did not challenge the truth and accuracy of the [broadcaster’s] story…The allegation of a lack of balance by the applicant was minor as the overall reporting of the story was fair and accurate. In that situation it may be possible that allowing a person an opportunity to respond is enough to provide balance, but in the current situation that is not sufficient.

The current situation involves more than a simple lack of balance. It also involves inaccurate reporting, distortion, unfairness, and a lack of impartiality. TVNZ failed to challenge any of the Leatham family’s comments and presented their comments as unquestionably credible.

Noting TVNZ’s earlier response that a "tidier result" could have been achieved, Adelphi agreed. It noted that it had several times provided details to the broadcaster concerning the repossession of the furniture and its return to the family. TVNZ failed to present those details in the item, Adelphi wrote, and in view of the horrendous picture which had been conveyed by the item, it considered the studio piece was insufficient to provide the necessary balance. That the company had declined to appear did not, it wrote, mean the obligation of balance had been met.

TVNZ’s Comments to the Authority – 3 April 1998

TVNZ referred to Adelphi’s comment that the broadcaster’s first contact with the complainant company was three days before the programme was broadcast. Then, the complainant had claimed, the broadcaster was informed that a satisfactory arrangement had been reached about the return of the chattels. TVNZ wrote that Adelphi’s representative’s recollection of the occasion might be faulty, for the only such contact was on the fourth day before the broadcast, when the reporter was informed that the company did not discuss individual cases with the media. There was no other contact, the broadcaster wrote, until the day of the broadcast.

TVNZ emphasised that both its reporter and a producer failed on a number of occasions to obtain comment from Adelphi on the day of the broadcast. It wrote:

To suggest, as the complainant does … that "Adelphi had on several occasions detailed to TVNZ the circumstances surrounding the repossession of the furniture and its return to the Leathams" is simply not true.

Crucial to assessing whether TVNZ treated Adelphi Finance fairly is, we suggest, the manner in which the programme dealt with the belated response from [its representative]…[He] telephoned Holmes just an hour before the broadcast. The information he provided was incorporated into a studio piece read by the presenter at the end of the item.

Stressing that the studio piece was checked twice with the complainant to ensure that its facts were correct and that the complainant’s representative "seemed happy and confirmed that the facts were in accordance with the events as he knew them", TVNZ repeated that the programme’s makers had gone to great lengths during the preparation of the story to secure comment from Adelphi.

In conclusion, the broadcaster wrote that:

…we do not share the inferences that [Adelphi’s solicitors have] drawn

from the programme. We believe the item was accurate and not distorted. The Leathams did have their furniture repossessed, even if only for 24 hours, in circumstances which suggest a certain lack of compassion and sensitivity on the part of Adelphi Finance.

Finally, in referring to the Authority’s Decision 1996-175/176, TVNZ agreed that the circumstances were different in that case to this, but it stated that the statement of principle expounded in that case was as applicable to this case.

Adelphi Finance’s Final Comment – 17 April 1998

Through its solicitors, Adelphi stressed that TVNZ’s staff were informed that a satisfactory arrangement for the return of the furniture had been reached with the family some days before the programme was broadcast. Specifically, it noted, that the chattels had been returned to the family had been confirmed by a named representative from TVNZ on the day of the broadcast. That confirmation was given on behalf of TVNZ to the representative of Adelphi when the latter:

…outlined Adelphi’s contact with the family, the circumstances of the repossession of the furniture, and the arrangements involving the return of the furniture which had been reached.

Opposing TVNZ’s view that it was not inaccurate and distorted, Adelphi emphasised that:

…the broadcast was inaccurate and distorted because it failed to mention at any time that the furniture was returned to the family. This is a most critical fact to the broadcast. It creates the impression that Adelphi was continuing to hold the furniture, causing hardship to the family. The misleading nature of the programme is corroborated by the donations by viewers of furniture and money, which was reported in the follow-up to the programme.

Contending again that the broadcast conveyed the impression that the company had:

  • rushed into the house and seized the furniture without trying to discuss the debt with the family;
  • acted inflexibly and heartlessly in its approach to the debt and the repossession, and to the deliberate disadvantage of the family; and
  • repossessed the furniture without any consideration of the recent bereavement in the family,

Adelphi wrote that this impression was demonstrably false. It pointed out that TVNZ had failed to respond to those inaccuracies. Instead, it claimed, TVNZ had relied only upon the lateness of the response to its overtures by Adelphi. Any lateness in its response, it wrote, did not affect TVNZ’s obligation to broadcast accurately and without distortion. The simple fact was, Adelphi wrote, the broadcast was misleading.

Denying TVNZ’s view that the repossession suggested a lack of compassion and sensitivity, Adelphi noted that it repossessed the furniture only after several unsuccessful attempts to contact the family to deal with the matter.

The complainant denied that the studio statement – reporting the comments of its representative – was sufficient to balance the picture which was conveyed by the broadcast. It stressed that the damage had already been done by the broadcast. It also stressed that the studio statement was not a fair summary of its representative’s comments:

…as it omitted the critical point that the furniture had been returned to the family.

TVNZ’s Response to the Final Comment – 29 April 1998

Stressing that there was no contact between the broadcaster and the Adelphi representative on 12 December, the day claimed by the complainant, TVNZ wrote:

The contact was on the day the furniture was removed, the 11th December.

Advising that it had undertaken a full check with each member of the Holmes staff, the broadcaster wrote that it was satisfied that none of its staff had spoken to the representative on 12 December.

In conclusion, TVNZ wrote that the furniture:

…was repossessed for twenty-four hours in circumstances which do not reflect well on Adelphi Finance. The story was a proper matter of public interest and was, we believe, fairly reported.

Further Correspondenece

On 16 July 1998, having decided to uphold the complaint under standard G6, the Authority wrote to the complainant and the broadcaster inviting submissions on penalty.

The solicitors for the complainant, in a letter dated 24 July 1998, urged the Authority to order the broadcast of an apology and a correction of the misleading assertions which TVNZ had previously broadcast. The complainant submitted a suggested apology and correction. In addition, the complainant noted the Authority’s power to order the payment of costs and it sought reimbursement of the legal fees it had incurred in pursuing its complaint with TVNZ and with the Authority.

In its response dated 24 July 1998, TVNZ offered, "as a consequence of the Authority’s decision", to broadcast an on-air statement that the furniture of the family, who were the subject of the broadcast, had been returned.