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 - 1996-030

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development
Number
1996-030
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

The effectiveness of a fire fighting aircraft was demonstrated in an item on One

Network News on TV One on 19 December 1995 at 6.00pm when it was shown

scooping thousands of litres of water from a lake or ocean and dropping it on fires.

Mr Stevenson, on behalf of the Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development,

complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was

inaccurate and misleading because it implied that water bombing was a new concept,

when in fact it had been in use for over 25 years. Further, he argued that the plane

shown was not new, but was simply a variation of an older type.

Declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ responded that the item had stated that for

Australian firefighters, the aircraft shown was a new weapon. It pointed out that there

was no claim that the plane represented an international breakthrough but had simply

reported that it was something new for Australasia. Dissatisfied with that reply, Mr

Stevenson, on the Centre's behalf, 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.

A fire fighting aircraft was described in an item on One Network News on TV One on

19 December 1995 at 6.00pm as "a new weapon." It was shown scooping up

thousands of litres of water and dumping it on fires. Comment from an Australian fire

fighter indicated that had such a plane been available to its fire service, a great deal of

damage could have been avoided in some of the large fires it had recently dealt with.

Mr Stevenson, on behalf of the Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development,

complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that using the term "new weapon" to

describe a technique which had been around for about 50 years was misleading and

confusing to viewers. He also complained that it was inaccurate to state that 170 such

aircraft were in operation when, according to sources which he cited, there were only

24 of the type which was pictured.

TVNZ responded that it had assessed the complaint against standards G1, G14 and G19

of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which were nominated by the

complainant. The first requires broadcasters:

G1  To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.


The others 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.


TVNZ noted that the words "new weapon" were used in the studio introduction to the

item and maintained that it was clear from the context that the aircraft which was

attracting attention was new to Australian fire fighters. It suggested that that impression

would have been reinforced in the item itself where it was reported that 170 such aircraft

have been in use overseas. It considered the context made it obvious that they were not

new aircraft, but were simply new to this part of the world.

TVNZ also emphasised the limitations of television for conveying detailed information,

pointing out that its distinctiveness was its ability to convey visual images. In this case,

it argued, the item advised that Australian fire fighters were looking at a new weapon,

that that weapon was a super scooper aircraft and that many were in service overseas. It

rejected the complaint that the item was inaccurate on points of fact and declined to

uphold the complaints that it breached standards G1 and G14.

In reference to standard G19, TVNZ considered that because all of the main points of

the story were broadcast, there was no distortion and accordingly, no breach of the

standard.

The Authority was referred by TVNZ to an earlier complaint made by Mr Stevenson

(Decision No: 150/95) about a report on measuring the World Bank's method of

measuring national wealth, in which it observed:

A person who relied on the item for information about the system would have

only a superficial knowledge. However, the Authority noted, the item did not

pretend to provide information at any level other than that.


The Authority repeats that it accepts that on brief news items it is not always possible to

provide an in-depth understanding about technical matters. As TVNZ observed, the

newsworthy aspect of this item was the demonstration of the aircraft's ability to scoop

up thousands of litres of water and dump it on fires. It does not believe viewers would

have been misled into believing the concept was new, but would appreciate that it was

simply a refinement of an already existing technique which was being considered for

introduction to Australasia. Furthermore, it considers the report accurately reflected the

attributes of the super scooper aircraft. It declines to uphold any aspect of the

complaint.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the

complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
21 March 1996


Appendix

Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development's Complaint to Television

New Zealand Ltd - 21 December 1995

Mr Stevenson, on behalf of the Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development,

complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that its broadcast of an

item on One Network News on TV One on 19 December 1995 at 6.00pm breached

broadcasting standards.

The item concerned an aircraft used for firefighting which was described as a new

weapon. The Centre complained that it was inaccurate to describe the plane as a new

weapon when water bombing by aircraft had been used for 50 years and the aircraft in

question was a variant of a type which had been in service for over 25 years.

Citations from reference sources were provided to support those contentions.

The Centre also questioned the statement that 170 of the aircraft shown were in

operation. It suggested that was not the case and that the number included all variants

of the type in use, and not just the one shown.

The Centre suggested that perhaps what was said in the item was not what was meant.

It wrote:

It may well be that the story was in fact about a "...new weapon..." New in the

sense that it was new to Australia and New Zealand.

If that had of been the case, then the point would have been made that such

"weapons" have been in existence for a quarter of a century in other parts of

the world. No such point was made.

...

To say one thing and mean another is a definition of inaccuracy.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 17 January 1996

TVNZ noted that the term "new weapon" was used in the studio introduction to the item

and linked the phrase to Australian firefighters. The introduction stated:

Across the Tasman, Christmas also marks the start of the bushfire season.

This year firefighters are looking to a new weapon to attack flames from the

air. It's a plane called a super scooper.

In its opinion, viewers would have deduced that the aircraft which was attracting the

attention of Australian firefighters was a new weapon for them. That impression, it

continued, would have been reinforced by the statement in the item that 170 such

aircraft have been in service overseas. Clearly, TVNZ argued, if that number of aircraft

were used abroad they were not new in the sense of being first in the world.

To the claim that the number of aircraft cited was incorrect, TVNZ suggested that the

figure of 170 was in reference to the particular model shown.

It then pointed out to the Centre the limitations of the medium of television - the time

constraints and the imperative that the pictures must be satisfactorily explained. It

pointed to the Broadcasting Standards Authority's reasoning in a previous complaint by

the Centre (Decision No: 150/95) in which it decided:

A person who relied on the item for information about the system would have

only a superficial knowledge. However, the Authority noted, the item did not

pretend to provide information at any level other than that.

TVNZ continued:

With respect, we suggest that in this case "One Network News" was trying to

do no more than suggest that Australian firefighters were looking to a new

weapon, that that weapon was a super scooper aircraft, that many were in

service successfully overseas (especially in Europe and North America) and that

cost was a key factor in deciding whether the planes should be acquired. One

part of this process that television can do better than the other media, is to show

the aircraft performing - both scooping water from the water and dropping it

upon the fire. So, while not pretending to convey any hard information other

than the above, the item provided those visual images of the aircraft which no

amount of technical data can match.

TVNZ declined to uphold the complaints that the item breached standards G1 and G14

because it was inaccurate on points of fact. It also rejected the standard G19 complaint,

maintaining that there was no distortion of the original event.

Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development's Referral to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority - 7 February 1996

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision not to uphold its complaint, the Centre for Psycho-

Sociological Development referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under

s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Explaining that its purpose in making the complaint was to show how those in positions

of power in New Zealand use their power in such a way as to confuse people, the

Centre persisted in its view that the item was inaccurate.

It repeated that it considered the introductory sentence made it clear that the item referred

to a weapon which was new. Citations from grammar texts and the Concise Oxford

Dictionary were used to support the argument. In the Centre's opinion, viewers would

have been totally misled by the item.

Responding to TVNZ's explanation of how the number of 170 was derived, the Centre

advised that it was incorrect. It quoted from reference sources which indicated that only

24 of the particular aircraft were ever ordered.

The Centre submitted that TVNZ could not use the limitations of time as an excuse not

to get the facts correct.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 13 February 1996

TVNZ responded to two points made by the Centre. The first was that the phrase "new

weapon" as used in the item clearly linked it to the Australian context.

Secondly, TVNZ advised that it could not resolve the question of the number of planes.

It advised that the Canadian agent who was contacted by its Australian reporter quoted

the figure of 170 and TVNZ had assumed that number referred to the type of aircraft

shown. In fact, it suggested, that number may well have referred to the generic type

rather than the specific model. It concluded:

It is possible, even likely, that both the agent and Mr Stevenson are right. There

may well be 170 "super scooper" type aircraft in use around the world, but only

24 of the CL-415 variety. The item mentioned only "super scoopers".

Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development's Final Comment - 22

February 1996

The Centre noted that TVNZ still maintained that the phrase "new weapon" did not

necessarily mean that the device was brand new, but just new to the area. It argued that

if "new" meant second hand, then the term second hand would not exist and suggested

that in common usage, the term new would not be used to describe something which

was second hand.

With respect to the number of aircraft, the Centre maintained that TVNZ should have

checked the number of aircraft in existence to determine whether the figure of 170 was

accurate. It noted that in its response, TVNZ acknowledged that the number might have

referred to the generic type rather than the specific model and that the script suggested

that there were 170 super-scoopers in operation. Mr Stevenson for the Centre wrote:

Either the broadcaster meant what it said in its reply to the complainant that the

figure of one hundred and seventy "...was in reference to the particular model

shown..." or as it now seems to be claiming, was in reference to all models in

service.

The broadcaster cannot claim that it can use the same figure to describe two

different classes of aircraft simultaneously.

The Centre stated that although the story was transmitted from Australia, it was unlikely

to have been a live broadcast and TVNZ's staff should have checked it for accuracy

before the broadcast. It claimed that the story would have confused non specialist

viewers and not advanced awareness of the world.

The Centre then commented on another story, reported in February, in which the phrase

"new weapon" had been correctly used to describe an item which had not been in use

before. It concluded:

Given these two different examples, it is submitted that Television New

Zealand cannot use the one term "new weapon", on two occasions with two

different meanings without causing confusion to the viewer in the case where

the meaning of the word is not made clear in context.

In such a case the viewer has no option but to resort to grammar and syntax.

Further Correspondence

In a letter dated 23 February 1996, the Centre drew the Authority's attention to the fact

...that the introduction to the item specifically referred to the fact that to fill the

tanks of a fire fighting aircraft while in motion is "new".

It noted that the words used in the promo were:

And a new way for an airborne firefighter to refill their tanks.

The Centre repeated that the technique of using fire-fighting aircraft had been in use for

about 50 years, and that the type of aircraft pictured had been used since about 1969.

Therefore, it concluded, it was inaccurate to describe the technique as "new".