BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Dunlop and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1996-098

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • Philip Dunlop
Number
1996-098
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

A fully automatic rifle being fired on a range was shown in a news item reporting the

debate about the political response to the call to tighten the gun control laws. The

item was broadcast on One Network News between 6.00–7.00pm on 11 May 1996.

Mr Dunlop complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item

was inaccurate and misleading as fully automatic rifles were extremely rare in New

Zealand and were not allowed to be used. Moreover, as gun owners were not

represented, the item was unbalanced.

Upholding the complaint that the item was inaccurate as it showed a weapon only

used by the Army, TVNZ said it was reviewing its library collection of pictures of

weapons so that all journalists would be able to cross-check any reference to firearms.

As the item dealt with the political response to the proposal, TVNZ maintained that it

was not unbalanced.

Dissatisfied that his complaint was not upheld in full, Mr Dunlop referred it 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 news item on 11 May 1996 dealing with the proposals for extended controls on

firearms included footage of a person at a range firing a fully automatic weapon. The

item reported the response from each of the two main political parties in New Zealand

to the demands for tighter controls.

Mr Dunlop complained to TVNZ that the item breached the standards as the weapon

shown was not available to New Zealanders. Accordingly, viewers would have been

misled as to the issue under consideration. Further, he argued, the political

representatives did not represent the pro-gun lobby.

TVNZ assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by Mr Dunlop. They

read:

G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.

G16 News, current affairs and documentaries should not be presented in such a

way as to cause unnecessary panic, alarm and distress.

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.

G20 Not set formula can be advanced for the allocation of time to interested

parties on controversial public issues. Broadcasters should aim to present

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

by judging every case on its merits.


Explaining that the political reaction to the proposal was the issue under discussion,

TVNZ declined to uphold the aspect of the complaint referring to balance. The item,

it said, had not involved a debate between the anti- and pro-gun lobbies. However, as

the weapon shown being fired was a fully automatic rifle, and as that was not a

weapon at issue in the current debate, TVNZ upheld the complaint that the item

breached standard G14.

It reported that a firearms fact sheet was currently being prepared for distribution to

every reporter and that the tape library catalogue was being assessed to ensure that

reporters were aware of which visuals of which weapons could or could not be used in

a generic sense.

Mr Dunlop referred his complaint to the Authority as he insisted that the item had

breach each of the nominated standards. He wrote:

The firing of these rifles is illegal in New Zealand, making the article

inaccurate, (G14), likely to cause alarm amongst those who do not understand

the issue, (G16), not even valid as the calls for greater controls were prompted

by the Port Arthur massacre, where automatic fire is illegal also, (G19), and by

omitting the pro-gun lobby from the debate – a breach of G20.


He believed that the broadcasting industry should exhibit integrity when reporting

issues involving guns.


Forwarding a copy of its recently released facts sheet, TVNZ maintained that the item

dealt with the issue raised by "Gunsafe" – that the government was responding too

slowly to calls to tighten up the gun laws – to which the gun owners' concerns were

not relevant. The item, it argued, had not contravened standards G16, G19 or G20.

The Authority commends TVNZ for upholding the aspect of the complaint that the

item breached standard G14. It believes that the error is not one which many viewers

would have recognised but, nevertheless, it is important that TVNZ maintains

accuracy in the news. The Authority also compliments TVNZ on the action taken on

the aspect upheld. It believes it shows a responsible attitude.

As the item dealt with the political response to the proposals advanced by "Gunsafe"

following the massacre in Port Arthur, Tasmania, and as the matter was covered

appropriately, the Authority concurs with TVNZ that the item did not breach

standards G16, G18 or G20.

 

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
22 August 1996


Appendix

Mr Dunlop's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 21 May 1996

Phillip Dunlop of Pokeno complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about an item

on One Network News on the reform of the laws relating to gun control, broadcast on

11 May 1996 between 6.00 - 7.00pm.

Pointing out that the item dealt with calls from "Gunsafe" for tighter gun controls, Mr

Dunlop maintained that as the Minister of Police could not effectively represent the

pro-gun lobby, the item was unbalanced.

Mr Dunlop also claimed that the item was misleading and he wrote:

The article featured a man firing a fully automatic AK47 type rifle on a range.

In New Zealand rifles capable of automatic fire are extremely rare, they must

be kept in a deactivated condition, and are never allowed to be fired.

He stressed that this could deceive viewers into believing that this was a common

practice.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 5 June 1996

After some correspondence as to the applicable standards, TVNZ assessed the

complaint under standards G14, G16, G19 and G20 of the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice.

Stating that it believed that Mr Dunlop's main concern was the accuracy of the item,

TVNZ upheld the complaint that the visuals of the fully automatic rifle being fired

was a breach of standard G14. It accepted that fully automatic rifles were not at issue

in the gun control debate in New Zealand as they were only used legally by the army.

TVNZ maintained that the inclusion of the shot was an honest mistake and no

mischief was intended. It stated that it would prepare a firearm fact sheet to be

distributed to all journalists. It was also intending to review its library cataloguing for

records containing pictures of weapons. Reporters would then be able to cross-check

the use of pictures with those on the fact sheet. It also noted that the reporter

involved had been spoken to about the need to check detail.

In declining to uphold the other aspects of the complaint, TVNZ pointed out that the

focus of the story was "Gunsafe's" accusation that the New Zealand legislature was

lagging behind its Australian counterpart. Comments against this accusation were

included from both a government and opposition spokesperson. It reported:

This was not an argument between gun owners and those who favour tighter

controls, but an argument between those who favour tighter controls and

those who make laws.

Mr Dunlop's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 17 June 1996

Dissatisfied that TVNZ had not upheld the complaint in full, Mr Dunlop referred it to

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

Referring to the footage of the fully automatic weapon being fired, Mr Dunlop

summarised his complaint:

The firing of these rifles is illegal in New Zealand, making the article

inaccurate, (G14), likely to cause alarm amongst those who do not understand

the issue, (G16), not even valid as the calls for greater controls were prompted

by the Port Arthur massacre, where automatic fire is illegal also, (G19), and by

omitting the pro-gun lobby from the debate - a breach of G20.

Mr Dunlop noted that TVNZ had upheld the complaint of a breach of G14, and that

they had taken some commendable measures to avoid further inaccuracies. He

stressed, however, that accurate information for broadcasting should be a prerequisite,

not a remedy following a complaint. Contending that damage was done by the

misrepresentation, Mr Dunlop asked that TVNZ be required to broadcast the correct

facts.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 2 July 1996

TVNZ repeated the points that it did not believe that the item had breached standards

G16, G19 or G20, and appended the firearms fact sheet it had distributed to staff as a

result of upholding the complaint as a breach of standard G14.

Mr Dunlop's Final Comment - 9 July 1996

Expressing the opinion that the guidelines, although rather too general, should improve

journalists' understanding of the issues, Mr Dunlop pointed out that the Arms Code

in New Zealand prohibited shooters from using their firearms as weapons. That point

was the core of his complaint.

Noting some inaccuracies in the description of MSSAs in the guidelines, Mr Dunlop

concluded:

I cannot over-emphasise the damage done to the image of shooting and

shooters by misrepresentation. I hope TVNZ understands that.

In another letter dated 30 July, Mr Dunlop expressed his concern as a member of

the public, who did not speak for any organisation, that the rights of the owners of

firearms were given little consideration following the outburst of media interest when

one person used a firearm as a weapon.