BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Cahill and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-075

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Diane Musgrave
Dated
Complainant
  • Jo Cahill
Number
2005-075
Channel/Station
TV2

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Documentary entitled Michael Jackson's Mind looked at history of Michael Jackson's unconventional behaviour – behaviour analysed by psychiatrists and psychologists – comments sought from range of other people – programme used extracts from previous documentary Living with Michael Jackson – allegedly unbalanced and unfair

Findings

Standard 4 (balance) – not controversial issue of public importance – balance not required – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – Authority unable to determine whether extracts of Martin Bashir documentary used in context – decline to determine – other comments by psychiatrist not unfair – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] On 30 May 2005, at 9.30pm, TV2 broadcast a documentary entitled Michael Jackson's Mind. The programme looked at the history of Michael Jackson's unconventional behaviour, including his friendships with young boys, in the context of the (then) pending child molestation charges. A significant part of the programme consisted of several mental health professionals analysing this behaviour, speculating on the reasons for it, and offering their views on the nature of his interactions with the young children he befriended.

[2] The programme included interviews with a large number of people, including professionals, family members, employees and those involved in investigations over previous allegations of abuse.

[3] Three of the health professionals expressed concern that some aspects of Michael Jackson's behaviour were consistent with the known traits of child abusers. One psychologist also acknowledged on several occasions that Michael Jackson's behaviour might be entirely innocent.

[4] Both the Jackson family spokesman and a young boy Michael Jackson had befriended spoke out strongly in support of him.

[5] The documentary also used extracts from an earlier documentary entitled Living with Michael Jackson, made by British journalist Martin Bashir.

Complaint

[6] Jo Cahill complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was unbalanced and unfair.

[7] Regarding balance, Ms Cahill argued that a programme aiming to examine the working of Michael Jackson's Mind was “certainly of a controversial nature”, and thus balance was required.

[8] Despite this, the complainant argued, the programme was weighted to imply that Michael Jackson was guilty of child molestation. The complainant noted that only two people spoke out in support of Michael Jackson – his family representative, and one of the boys he had befriended. In contrast to this, the complainant maintained, a psychiatrist, two psychologists and a court reporter all gave their opinion that he was guilty. The professional status of Jackson's detractors, she continued, gave additional weight to their views.

[9] Ms Cahill concluded that the show was “severely weighted” against Michael Jackson.

[10] Ms Cahill also maintained that two extracts from the Martin Bashir documentary Living with Michael Jackson were placed out of context, and were accordingly misleading.

[11] The complainant referred first to the extract in which one of Jackson's young male friends was shown saying:

… then he said, “look, if you love me, you'll sleep in my bed”

[12] Ms Cahill argued that the programme ignored the wider context in which the boy made this comment. Instead of it being an inducement to sleep in the bed with Michael Jackson, she said, the comment was made when the boy was sleeping over, and Jackson had offered to sleep on the floor. The boy had resisted, saying that he would sleep on the floor, to which Jackson had replied “look, if you love me, you'll sleep in my bed”.

[13] Further, Ms Cahill contended, it was unfair for the psychiatrist to then comment negatively on words which had been taken out of context.

[14] The complainant then referred to another brief clip from the Bashir documentary, where Jackson stated “I am Peter Pan”. It was evident from the tone he used that Jackson was using the term metaphorically, she said, and yet the psychiatrist treated the words as if they were meant literally.

[15] It was wrong, Ms Cahill argued, to make a programme based on reports of people who had never met Jackson, but who offered their views of him based on information from another documentary.

[16] For the above reasons, argued the complainant, the programme was unfair.

Standards

[17] The following standards are relevant to the determination of this complaint:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with 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.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guideline 6a

Care should 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[18] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It noted the complainant's view that the programme was weighted to imply Jackson's guilt, but responded that his guilt or innocence was not the subject of the programme. It stated that the psychologists and psychiatrists were neither supporters nor detractors. Nor was it surprising, it said, that those supporting Jackson were close to him.

[19] It contended that a question of balance would arise in these circumstances only if professional views were known which could explain Jackson's highly unconventional behaviour in a positive light. It also noted that the complainant did not suggest that any such views had been omitted.

[20] TVNZ did not accept that the programme was weighted against Jackson. The programme made it clear, TVNZ said, that different interpretations could be given to many of Jackson's comments; the comments made by the health professionals simply reflected their own professional interpretations. The introduction to the programme, TVNZ stated, made it clear that conflicting opinions existed and that Jackson had “baffled us all”.

[21] TVNZ also queried the complainant's assertion that the health professionals needed to meet Jackson in order to comment on his behaviour.

[22] Responding to the complainant's concerns about the use of the extracts from the Bashir documentary, TVNZ noted that it no longer had access to that documentary and was thus unable to comment on the context in which the words were originally used. It noted, however, that there is no doubt that Jackson had allowed young boys to sleep in his bed. Furthermore, it had been announced since his acquittal on the molestation charges that this practice was to cease.

[23] Regarding the Peter Pan comments, TVNZ recognised that the complainant believed that words were intended only metaphorically. It observed, however, that this was not the interpretation given by the psychiatrist, who was entitled to express his opinion on the issue.

[24] For these reasons, TVNZ considered that the programme did not breach standards of balance or fairness.

Referral to the Authority

[25] Ms Cahill was dissatisfied with TVNZ's response and referred the matter to the Authority. On the question of balance, Ms Cahill noted that her complaint was not about Jackson's trial, and that she felt TVNZ had taken her words out of context in implying that it was.

[26] She reiterated that her concerns were instead about the fact that the programme contained no professional opinion in support of Jackson. Ms Cahill concluded that she:

…must assume that [TVNZ] have attempted, and been unable to find, a mental health professional who would view Michael Jackson's behaviour in a more favourable light than that of a paedophile.

[27] Furthermore, Ms Cahill gave her view – as a psychology student – that it was necessary to meet Jackson in order to give valid opinions on his behaviour. She stated that:

To base a professional opinion of a person's mental state on pieces of a television show, with no first-hand knowledge of the person's capabilities or everyday behaviour, is thoroughly unprofessional, and gives a false air of authority to the opinion, in this case resulting in an unbalanced programme.

[28] Regarding her complaints about the extracts from the Martin Bashir documentary being taken out of context, Ms Cahill expressed her surprise that TVNZ did not have access to a documentary that it had previously broadcast.

Broadcaster's Response to the Authority

[29] Responding to the referral, TVNZ stated that the approach of the programme was clearly “popular” rather than “academic”, and it legitimately supplemented the enormous amount of material already published about Michael Jackson.

[30] In respect of Ms Cahill's surprise that it no longer had access to the Martin Bashir documentary, TVNZ advised that it had purchased only single-screening rights, and it no longer had a copy of the programme.

Complainant's Final Comment

[31] In her final comment, the complainant suggested that the programme's use of professional experts belied TVNZ's statement that the show was intended to be popular, and not academic.

[32] In any event, she argued, being “popular” did not give a programme license to depart from the requirements of the broadcasting codes.

[33] Finally, Ms Cahill maintained that as TVNZ did not have access to the Martin Bashir documentary, it did not properly investigate her concerns about the extract being taken out of context, and thus should not have dismissed her complaint.

Authority's Determination

[34] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Balance

[35] A programme requires balance only if it discusses a controversial issue of public importance. The programme in the present case examined the unconventional behaviour of an American singer and, in the view of the Authority, this is not an issue of public importance. While the issue may be of some interest to members of the New Zealand public, it has no significant potential impact on them.

[36] Accordingly, the Authority concludes that the balance standard does not apply.

Fairness

[37] The first element of the fairness complaint was that the programme had played out of context an extract from Martin Bashir's documentary Living with Michael Jackson, and that the extract had accordingly given a mistaken impression of what had taken place.

[38] The Authority is unable to determine this issue. TVNZ no longer has a copy of the Martin Bashir documentary – which is not unusual, if only single screening rights were purchased – and thus the Authority is unable to determine the context in which the comment was originally made. Furthermore, as the programme did not discuss an issue of public importance, it is unnecessary to require TVNZ to procure a copy of the documentary from the United Kingdom simply so that this issue could be addressed.

[39] The Authority accordingly declines to determine this part of the fairness complaint under s11(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[40] Ms Cahill also complained that in light of the non-contextual use of the extract, it was unfair for the expert to have commented adversely on it.

[41] The Authority is again unable to determine this part of the complaint, for two reasons. First, as it is unable to determine whether or not the clip was used in context, it is also unable to determine whether the psychiatrist's comments on the clip were fair. Second, there is no readily available way to identify the information upon which the psychiatrist predicated her comments. It is possible that before commenting, the psychiatrist saw not just the brief clip that was shown in this programme, but a full extract, or even the whole Bashir documentary.

[42] The Authority therefore also declines to determine this aspect of the complaint under s11(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[43] The final aspect of the fairness complaint concerned a psychiatrist's comments that Michael Jackson genuinely believed himself to be Peter Pan. The complainant asserted that this was clearly not the case, and that Jackson was simply comparing himself to Peter Pan, “the boy who never grew up”.

[44] This, in the view of the Authority, was not unfair. Michael Jackson has been open about his affinity with the character of Peter Pan, and the psychiatrist was entitled to offer his opinion on the matter. While the complainant disagrees with the psychiatrist's interpretation, the comments were not unfair.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
28 September 2005

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

  1. Jo Cahill's formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 15 June 2005
  2. TVNZ's response to formal complaint – 28 June 2005
  3. Ms Cahill's referral to the Authority – 5 July 2005
  4. TVNZ's response to the referral – 20 July 2005
  5. Ms Cahill's final comment – 4 August 2005