BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1996-014

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development
Number
1996-014
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

The points that the industrial dispute in Paris was spreading to other parts of France and

that there had been scuffles between strikers and anti-strike protesters were reported in

an item on One Network News broadcast between 6.00–7.00pm on 3 December 1995.

On behalf of the Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development, J M Stevenson (the

Director) complained to Television New Zealand Limited that the item was unbalanced

because of its omission of the reason for the strike. The omission of that reason, he

added, left TVNZ open to the charge that it stifled possible criticism of the New

Zealand's government's similar policy.

Pointing out that the item was an update of the significant recent events of a story which

had been dealt with regularly during the past week – including an explanation of the

reasons for the strike – TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. Dissatisfied with

TVNZ's decision, on the Centre's behalf Mr Stevenson referred the 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.


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read the

correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice, the Authority

determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

TVNZ broadcast on One Network News on 3 December 1995 a brief report (17

seconds) on developments in the major industrial action taking place in Paris and other

parts of France. Mr J M Stevenson of Dunedin, Director of the Centre for Psycho-

Sociological Development, complained to TVNZ that the item breached the broadcasting

standards as it omitted any reason for the nation-wide strikes. He wrote:

The main thrust of the complaint is that a viewer who gained their information

on this topic solely from the "One Network News" item, would be unaware that

the reason for the industrial unrest, is the French government's intention to

privatise some Government functions and to cut Social Services. It is suggested

that the people of this country have a right to know the lengths to which the

citizenry of a fellow democratic, advanced western country will go, to defend

the rights of the individual - through collective expression - against the power of

an elected government.


TVNZ assessed the complaint under the nominated standards. The first two require

broadcasters:

G6  To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters,

current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.

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.

The other one reads:


G20 No set formula can be advanced for the allocation of time to interested

parties on controversial public issues. Broadcasters should aim to present

significant sides in as fair a way as possible, and this can be done only by

judging every case on its merits.


Pointing out that the item of 3 December was an update of earlier news bulletins – which

had included and explained the reasons for the unrest – TVNZ said that the item

assumed knowledge on the viewer's part because of the extensive media coverage given

to the matters. It declined to uphold the complaint. When he referred the complaint to

the Authority on the Centre's behalf, Mr Stevenson maintained that the item breached

the standards. In view of the number of news sources in Dunedin, he argued that

TVNZ could not assume that television viewers would have seen the earlier items

referred to. He did not accept that TVNZ could use coverage of the issues by other

news outlets as justification that its coverage was balanced.

In response, TVNZ pointed out that the strike had been running for about a week and

wrote:

We argue that it is perfectly legitimate in the context of a television news bulletin

to provide items which simply update news stories which are in wide circulation

and have been reported extensively both by ourselves, and by other branches of

the media.

The Authority's approach to the complaint initially involves deciding the appropriate

standards. In previous decisions, it has ruled that standard G7 applies to deception

which arises through the use of technology. As technology is not an issue with the

Centre's complaint, the Authority has put standard G7 aside as inapplicable.

Standard G20 deals with one aspect of balance. As balance is the core issue in the

complaint, and as standard G6 focuses on balance, the Authority subsumes the standard

G20 requirement into standard G6.

Standard G6 is an elaboration on the requirement contained in s.4(1)(d) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989. Pursuant to that provision, broadcasters are required to

maintain standards consistent with:

(d)  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.


The Authority refers to this provision to show that the standards accept that all

significant points of view need not be contained in the same programme. Significant

points of view may be included within other programmes provided they are broadcast

within the period of current interest.

The Authority appreciates that the relationship between s.4(1)(d) and standard G6

depends on the facts disclosed with each complaint. In this instance, TVNZ accepted

that its coverage on 3 December of the developments of the industrial unrest in France

did not discuss the reasons for that unrest. TVNZ proceeded to argue that this was

unnecessary as the reasons for the unrest had been covered extensively by itself and

other media during the previous week.

The Authority accepts that many viewers do not rely on one news source for their total

information about a matter. Further, in spite of using a variety of sources, a

viewer/listener/reader may miss some important coverage from the dominant source

relied on. It agrees with the Centre that a broadcaster such as TVNZ cannot avoid its

obligations under standard G6 by referring to balancing material contained elsewhere in

the media. However, the Authority also accepts that a person who relies on a number

of sources about a major story will probably have access to the differing depths of

analysis and the varying perspectives advanced.

Taking into account the extent of the coverage of the French strikes broadcast by

TVNZ, and acknowledging that it is of relevance to informed viewers that the issue was

reported comprehensively through the media, the Authority concludes that the broadcast

of the brief news update on 3 December was not required to explore the issues

comprehensively and, consequently, did not breach the nominated standards.

 

For the reason above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
22 February 1996


Appendix

Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development's Complaint to Television

New Zealand Ltd - 4 December

J M Stevenson, Director of the Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development in

Dunedin, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about an item broadcast on TV

One's One Network News between 6.00 - 7.00pm on 3 December 1995. He began:

The story concerned the industrial unrest currently taking place in France.

Specifically, no reason for the industrial unrest was given in the item.

Accordingly, he wrote, viewers would be unaware that the reason for the unrest was the

French government's intention to privatise some government functions and to cut social

services. Mr Stevenson argued that New Zealanders should be aware of the lengths that

citizens would go in some countries to defend the right of the individual against an

elected government.

Referring to standards G6 and G7 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, Mr

Stevenson argued that the item's omission of the reasons for the strike was to avoid

encouraging criticism of the New Zealand government. Mr Stevenson also argued that

the omission of the reasons for the industrial action contravened standard G20.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 14 December 1995

Assessing the complaint under the nominated standards, TVNZ explained that the item

was an update on earlier stories which had included an explanation of the reasons for

the strike. TVNZ acknowledged that the item complained about gave no reasons for the

industrial unrest but as it dealt with a continuing story featured in all the media, some

prior knowledge on the viewers' part was assumed.

The complaint was not upheld.

The Centre's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 19

December 1995

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, on the Centre's behalf Mr Stevenson referred the

complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting

Act 1989.

While accepting that TVNZ had included the reasons in other bulletins, Mr Stevenson

said the viewer who relied on the other media, or TV3, for information could form an

impression after watching the 3 December item that TVNZ was biased. He wrote:

It is submitted that the people of this country do not have an obligation to watch a

given television broadcaster on a regular basis, simply in order to decide whether

or not that broadcaster is biased. The obligation is on the broadcaster to adhere at

all times to the Codes of Broadcasting Practice.

Pointing out TVNZ acknowledged that the item was biased, he argued that TVNZ could

not use the lack of bias elsewhere in the media as an excuse. That excuse, he argued,

would ensure that no broadcaster would ever be in breach of the balance standards.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 16 January 1995

In its report to the Authority, TVNZ said that the 17 second item which was an update

on the strike was accompanied by the following comment:

And an industrial dispute which has paralysed Paris is now spreading across

France. There were scuffles in the streets today when police tried to stop clashes

between strikers, and anti-strike protesters. Public transport is frozen, postal

workers have gone home, and unions predict teachers and telephone employees

will join them shortly.

In response to the complainant's argument that the story was biased for not including

reasons for the strike, TVNZ maintained:

We argue that it is perfectly legitimate in the context of a television news bulletin

to provide items which update news stories which are in wide circulation and have

been reported extensively both by ourselves, and by other branches of the media.

TVNZ pointed out the story had been running for a week or so and that the reasons for

the strike had been given. The spread of the strike to other parts of France was the

significant development on 3 December and that was "reported properly".

TVNZ also explained:

The complainant may not fully appreciate the restrictions inherent in the assembly

of a television news bulletin. First of all there is the simple restriction of time.

Second there is the requirement for the words to match the pictures. So, in the

script quoted above, it was necessary behind a picture of an empty railway station

to say "public transport is frozen" and to accompany pictures of an empty postal

sorting room with the words "postal workers have gone home". The pictures

make no sense unless these key phrases are inserted to explain to the viewer what

is being shown.

Our item showed no bias. It was a straightforward, unambiguous update of an

on-going story. Its purpose did not go beyond reminding viewers that the French

strike was continuing and informing them that it seemed to be spreading. These

were the salient facts of the day. After a week of coverage of the French strike on

TV, on radio and in the newspapers there was no need, we believe, to repeat on

every occasion the reasons behind the industrial action.

Focussing primarily on standard G6, TVNZ said that the story of the strike, in

compliance with s.4(1)(d) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, had reflected all relevant news

during the period of current interest.

The Centre's Final Comment - 23 January 1996

On the Centre's behalf, Mr Stevenson argued that consistency had to be seen from the

point of view of the viewer - not the broadcaster. In view of the number of television

news broadcasters in Dunedin, he wrote:

With five news programmes available daily, no broadcaster can claim that only

those who regularly watch the broadcaster's news output are eligible to lodge

formal complaints as to the standards of that organisation.

He did not accept TVNZ's defence that it could omit a central matter because it was

covered in other media.

TVNZ, he continued, had allocated 17 seconds for the story and:

If that was not enough time to put an unbiased item to air, then the fact that a

biased item did in fact go to air is a decision for which Television New Zealand

alone is responsible. It should have allocated more time.

The item, he maintained, was biased.