BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Turney and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1996-154

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • John Turney
Number
1996-154
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

Refusal by an elderly man to pay the medical bills for his wife's long term hospital

care was the subject of an item on One Network News on 28 May 1996 between

6.00–7.00pm.

Mr Turney complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the report was shallow

and selective because it failed to examine the reasons why Northland Health (the

Crown Health Enterprise) was charging for its services, and did not explain that fees

were waived only when patients met asset guidelines.

TVNZ, in its response, maintained that although the RHA declined to appear on

camera, its position was fairly summarised and reference was made to asset testing.

Further, TVNZ asserted, the public already had a thorough understanding of the

implications of asset testing of the elderly. It noted that the official position was

given by the Minister of Health during the item and later in Holmes immediately after

the news. It declined to uphold the complaint. Dissatisfied with that decision, Mr

Turney referred the 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 partial

and unfair and breached standards G6, G14 and G20 of the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice.


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.

An elderly man's refusal to pay for his wife's long-term hospital care was the subject

of an item on One Network News broadcast on TV One on 28 May 1996 between

6.00–7.00pm. The man, who was being billed by Northland Health for $28,000 to pay for

the care of his wife, who was suffering from Alzheimers disease, acknowledged that

although he could afford to pay the bill, his refusal was on grounds of principle.

Footage was shown of the couple, both in their 80s, and focussed on the wife who

was unable to communicate verbally and appeared to require constant care.

Although no representative from the RHA was interviewed, the reporter summarised

the RHA's position by stating that the reason the RHA was not being funded to pay

for the woman's care was because of "asset testing". Asset testing was a controversial

issue for the government, the reporter noted, moving to a clip of the Minister of

Health speaking in Parliament about the 31,000 people in long-term hospital care.

Mr Turney complained to TVNZ that the report was shallow and selective, and

viewers received only a token summary of the reasons why the RHA was charging for

its services. He estimated that about 95% of the item was taken up with pictures of

the "forlorn and wrinkly visages" of the elderly couple but there was no explanation

given of the reasons for the husband's refusal to pay. Mr Turney considered that

standards G6, G7, G14, G17, G19 and G20 of the Television Code of Broadcasting

Practice were breached. With respect to standard G17, he asked whether the woman

had knowingly permitted her condition and appearance to be filmed at close range and

broadcast to the nation. In Mr Turney's view, her husband did not have the right to

authorise this on her behalf.

TVNZ advised that it had assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by

Mr Turney. Standards G6 and G7 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 programme practice in the presentation of

programmes which takes advantage of the confidence viewers have in

the integrity of broadcasting.


The other standards read:

G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.

G17 Unnecessary intrusion in the grief and distress of victims and their

families or friends must be avoided. Funeral coverage should reflect

sensitivity and understanding for the feelings and privacy of the

bereaved.

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 No 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

only be done by judging each case on its merits.

At the outset, TVNZ advised that its investigation revealed that although the RHA

was invited to appear to comment on the case, it had declined to do so. Its news staff

therefore summarised the RHA's position in a graphic which read:

Northland Health says it has no alternative. It is not being funded by the RHA

in this particular case because of asset testing and therefore has to seek legal

advice to recover the outstanding debt.

TVNZ considered this statement was a fair and accurate summary which made

specific reference to asset testing. It also noted that the man himself acknowledged he

had assets, and was able to pay the bill, but was making a stand on a matter of

principle. In addition, TVNZ emphasised, the official view was reiterated in the

Holmes programme later that evening in which the elderly man and the Minister of

Health engaged in a studio discussion.

TVNZ asserted that the public had a thorough understanding of asset testing of the

elderly and that the references to assets and asset testing, together with the statement

by the Minister and the man's acknowledgment that he could afford to pay, made it

clear that the story was concerned with asset testing.

With regard to whether the man's wife knowingly permitted herself to be filmed,

TVNZ advised that it was its understanding that her husband had power of attorney

over his wife's affairs and therefore was entitled to authorise filming.

Turning to the alleged breaches, TVNZ contended that the comments made by the

Minister provided the necessary balance required of standard G6 and, pointing to the

provision in s.4(1)(d) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 which states that balance can be

achieved "over the period of current interest", observed that the requirement was

satisfied because the official position was reiterated when the Minister appeared on

Holmes between 7.00–7.30pm, that evening, immediately after the news.

With respect to standard G7, TVNZ described a "deceptive programme practice" as

technical trickery by which the pictures are not what they seem to be. On this

occasion, it reported, the state of the woman's health and the distress and

determination of her husband were shown unembellished. There was, it added, no

deception and thus no breach of the standard.

In rejecting the complaint under standard G14, TVNZ maintained that there were no

inaccuracies, and that the requirement for objectivity and impartiality was complied

with. As for the complaint under standard G17, it did not agree that there was any

unnecessary intrusion into the couple's grief. It noted that although the man was

upset by his wife's condition, the pictures of the couple were touching and reflected

the strong bond between them.

TVNZ rejected the complaint under standard G19, arguing that the standard was not

applicable since the report accurately reflected the situation. Turning to standard

G20, it suggested that it was subsumed under standard G6 and furthermore pointed

out that the RHA's refusal to appear had to be taken into account.

The Authority observes that the subject of the item was the government's policy of

charging for health care, which was illustrated with pictures of the elderly man and his

wife, who was suffering from advanced Alzheimers disease.

When it assesses a balance complaint, the Authority examines the item to ascertain if

the questions which are raised are adequately dealt with and, if there are two sides to

the issue, whether those two sides are presented fairly. In the Authority's view, the

extract from the Minister's speech cited by TVNZ did not enlighten viewers as to

why the couple was being asked to pay the medical bill and there was no clear link

between her remarks and the situation presented. It does not agree that the subject of

asset testing is so well understood that it did not need explanation in this context. The

man, on his own admission, could afford to pay and the Authority considers it should

have been explained more clearly that this was the reason why he had been billed by

the CHE. It would have been helpful, the Authority considers, to have reminded

viewers what asset testing involves.

Turning to TVNZ's claim that the matter had been dealt with in an item following on

Holmes, and was therefore balanced during the period of current interest, the

Authority requested a copy of the Holmes item, which it viewed in conjunction with

the news story. While it accepts that the Holmes item did elaborate on some of the

issues raised, it does not agree with TVNZ that the later story provided the required

balance for the news item. While s.4(1)(d) provides:

4(1) Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes and

their presentation, standards which are 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 requirement in standard G14 is for news to be presented accurately, objectively

and impartially. While the requirement for accuracy, objectivity and impartiality may

in some circumstances be achieved in news items which cover a topic over a period,

this was not such a situation. The Authority upholds the complaint that standard G6

was breached because the item did not explain what asset testing is and how it

impacted on the couple. It also upholds the complaint that standard G14 was

breached because the item was not objective and impartial as the emotive footage of

the elderly couple was not balanced by relevant facts. It further finds that standard

G20 was breached because the item omitted to present all significant sides in as fair a

way as possible. It notes that the appearance of the Minister of Health (Mrs Shipley)

on the Holmes item went some distance to remedy that defect for those viewers who

continued their viewing into the Holmes programme, but reiterates that the news item

itself did not contain the required balancing perspective.

Next, it turns to the complaint that the programme employed deceptive programme

practices and thus was in breach of standard G7. The Authority agrees with TVNZ

that the standard applies to examples of technical trickery and that no such practice

was used.

It then examines the complaint that standard G17 was breached because the item

unnecessarily intruded into the woman's illness, portraying her in a manner which was

insensitive and unfeeling. The Authority decides that the item verged on the

exploitative, portraying human suffering in prolonged sequences which for some,

would have been uncomfortable to watch. However, it concludes that the standard

was not breached because, it is informed, that the husband consented on his wife's

behalf to have her thus portrayed.

Finally, the Authority examines the complaint that standard G19 was breached. It

declines to uphold the complaint under this standard because it accepts that the item

was an accurate reflection of the very poignant situation.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds the complaint that an

item broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd on One Network News on 28 May

1996 between 6.00–7.00pm breached standards G6, G14 and G20 of the

Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.


It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.


Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose an order under s.13(1) of the

Broadcasting Act. It does not intend to do so on this occasion, since some attempt,

although inadequate, had been made to provide balance.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
14 November 1996


Appendix

John Turney's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 7 June 1996

Mr Turney of Kumeu complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that its broadcast of

an item on One Network News on 28 May 1996 between 6.00 - 7.00pm breached

broadcasting standards.

The item involved an interview with an elderly Northland man whose wife was

suffering from Alzheimers disease and had been in hospital care for two years. The

man, who had just received a bill for $28,000 for his wife's care, acknowledged that he

could afford to pay the bill, but explained that he was refusing to pay "on principle",

because he and his wife had paid their taxes over the years. It was noted that he had

already paid a bill of $21,000 for her care.

Although no representative from the RHA was interviewed, the reporter explained

that the reason the RHA was not being funded to cover the woman's care was because

of "asset testing". The issue was a controversial one for the government, the reporter

continued, and the item moved to a clip of the Minister of Health speaking in

Parliament where she pointed out that 31,000 people were in long term hospital care

in New Zealand and, with reference to the asset testing regime, that it was the

government's view that it was fair to treat people in similar circumstances in a similar

way.

Mr Turney complained the report was shallow and selective because only a token

summary was given of the reasons why the RHA was charging for its services.

Further, he wrote:

Extremely vigilant viewers may have noticed the occurrence of the word asset.

They could certainly be forgiven for not noticing this crucial word! It was

neither mentioned again, nor was there provided for the benefit of the long-

suffering viewer any helpful explanation as to how assets may have had a

bearing on the situation.

He suggested that 95% of the story was taken up with shots of the elderly couple

while only a scant 5% was given to the reasons why they were being charged. He

asked whether the couple could have been closet millionaires, and suggested that

would never be known since the reporting was so shallow and selective.

Mr Turney maintained that standards G6, G7, G14, G17, G19 and G20 were

breached. With respect to standard G17, he asked whether the woman knowingly

permitted her condition and appearance to be broadcast. He did not believe her

husband had the right to authorise this on her behalf.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 25 June 1996

When it responded to the complaint, TVNZ advised that its investigation showed that

the RHA was invited to appear to comment on the case, but had declined to do so. Its

news staff therefore summarised its position in a graphic which read:

Northland Health says it has no alternative. It is not being funded by the RHA

in this particular case because of asset testing and therefore has to seek legal

advice to recover the outstanding debt.

In TVNZ's view, this was a fair and accurate statement of the position which

specifically referred to asset testing. It noted that the question of asset testing was

also referred to later in the item in an extract from the Minister's speech and that in a

Holmes interview later, in which the Minister and the elderly man were engaged in a

studio discussion, the official view came through again strongly.

Responding to Mr Turney's point that the item did not explain how assets had a

bearing on the situation, TVNZ contended that in its view, the public had a thorough

understanding of the matter of asset testing of the elderly, and that it was clear from

other information in the item that the story was one about asset testing.

To the question of whether the woman knowingly permitted herself to be filmed,

TVNZ advised that its understanding was that her husband had power of attorney

over his wife's affairs and in those circumstances was entitled to authorise such

filming, provided it met with the approval of the hospital.

TVNZ did not believe the item lacked balance. It considered that the official position

was clearly stated, even though the RHA declined to appear. Further, it noted that

standard G6 evolved from s.4(1)(d) of the Broadcasting Act, which states that balance

can be achieved "over the period of current interest". It maintained that while the item

itself was balanced, the official position was reiterated in the Holmes item which

followed.

TVNZ did not believe standard G7 applied to this complaint, noting that a "deceptive

programme practice" was generally accepted to mean some sort of technical trickery.

It emphasised that the pictures accurately reflected the true situation.

Turning to standard G14, TVNZ advised that it found no inaccuracies in the

programme and considered that the requirement for objectivity and impartiality were

complied with.

Referring to standard G17, TVNZ asserted there was no unnecessary intrusion into

grief, pointing out that permission was given by the husband for the filming. It

regarded the pictures as touching and reflecting the strong affection which remained

between the couple.

TVNZ advised that it did not consider standard G19 was applicable since the man's

views were accurately reflected.

It considered that standard G20 was subsumed under standard G6. It noted that under

standard G20 broadcasters were required to present all significant views in as fair a

way as possible and emphasised that the refusal of the RHA to appear in the item had

to be taken into account.

Mr Turney's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 17 July 1996

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Mr Turney referred the complaint to the

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

He commented first on TVNZ's explanation that because RHA staff refused to appear

on the programme, the RHA's position was fairly summarised in a caption. Mr

Turney argued that whether that was an accurate summary was not clear and that

viewers only had TVNZ's word that it was. He suggested that had a spokesperson

from the RHA been interviewed off camera, there might have been more emphasis on

asset testing and viewers would have realised that asset testing was the real issue of

the story.

Mr Turney suggested that a far more objective and impartial treatment of the story

would have emphasised the subject of asset testing.

With respect to standard G17, Mr Turney wrote that he was deeply offended by the

close-up footage of the woman. He pointed out that power of attorney was generally

assumed to apply only to administrative matters and that even if the husband was

entitled to request the attendance of a camera team at his wife's bedside, TVNZ

should have declined the offer on the basis that it added no new information to the

story.

Turning to standard G6 and TVNZ's argument that balance could be achieved over the

period of current interest, Mr Turney argued that there was a distinction between One

Network News and Holmes, the former providing news and the latter providing

discussion loosely based around topical issues. He did not believe viewers expected

hard facts on Holmes, nor did he believe it was an acceptable practice to hold over

significant aspects of a news story for airing on Holmes.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 23 July 1996

TVNZ maintained that the RHA's position was accurately summarised and it did not

agree that the story should have been linked more directly to asset testing.

While it stated that it respected Mr Turney's views about the pictures of the woman,

it believed they contributed an important dimension to the point of principle being

made.

TVNZ denied that Holmes did not provide news. It noted that a number of news

stories had broken on the programme over the years and it regularly enlarged on

information carried in One Network News. It pointed out that the content of both

programmes was overseen by executive producers and senior journalists throughout

the day. It denied that the appearance of the Minister on Holmes amounted to

"holding over significant aspects of a key news story" as Mr Turney alleged. It

concluded:

It is rather a current affairs programme properly fulfilling the function of

developing a running story, making use of the more generous durations

available in a programme of that nature. No important facts are deliberately

omitted from One Network News and none was on this occasion.

Mr Turney's Final Comment - 2 August 1996

When asked to make a brief final comment, Mr Turney asked why, if the story was

not about asset testing, did TVNZ go to such efforts to ensure that the Minister was

interviewed on Holmes. He continued:

Why was it necessary to provide extended close-up footage of Mrs Findlay to

support the view of her husband that Northland Health should not be charging

him for services it had provided in good faith? I am sure Northland Health

would have advised Mr Findlay prior to hospitalisation of Mrs Findlay that he

would be billed for her care. Mr Findlay certainly at no time claimed to the

contrary.

He suggested that the Minister had been brought into the discussion not within the

period of current interest, but only after TVNZ had extracted the maximum emotional

impact from the extended coverage of the elderly couple.

Mr Turney concluded that he remained unconvinced that TVNZ marshalled its

considerable resources simply to present a point of principle.