Female Images and Representation in Sport and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1994-085
- I W Gallaway (Chair)
- R A Barraclough
- L M Loates
- J R Morris
- Female Images and Representation in Sport (FIRST)
ProgrammeOne Network News
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
An item on the Fletcher Marathon in Rotorua included in One Network News on 30
April 1994 reported that the winner of the marathon was a man from Christchurch
who was running in his first marathon.
Ms Judy McGregor, on behalf of FIRST, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd,
the broadcaster, that because the item failed to acknowledge the accomplishments of
any of the thousands of women competitors in the marathon, it was inaccurate,
unbalanced and unfair and was likely to encourage discrimination against women.
In its response, TVNZ emphasised that it was a legitimate news angle to focus the
coverage on the men's division since the winner was running in his first marathon. It
explained that although it had pictures of the women's division, the information
provided by the race organisers was inaccurate and gave no indication of the magnitude
of the women's division winner's achievement. Consequently, an editorial decision
was made to focus only on the winner of the men's division. Although it regretted the
error, TVNZ felt that that was the only decision available to it given the information it
had at the time. It declined to uphold the complaint.
For the reasons given below, the Authority upheld the complaint that the item, because
it was inaccurate and partial, breached standard G14. It declined to uphold any other
aspect of the complaint.
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
has determined the complaint without a formal hearing.
News coverage of the Fletcher Marathon in Rotorua on One Network News broadcast
on 30 April 1994 between 6.00–6.30pm included a report on the fact that the winner
of the men's division was running in his first marathon.
FIRST, through its spokesperson, Ms Judy McGregor, complained to TVNZ that its
failure to include any coverage of the women's division race breached the standards in
the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which require broadcasters to ensure that
news coverage is accurate, fair and impartial and to avoid portraying people in a way
which is likely to encourage discrimination against them on account of their sex. In its
referral to the Authority, FIRST identified additional breaches and suggested that
TVNZ had failed to keep its news sources under review and had failed to exercise care
in editing its material to ensure that the extracts used were a true reflection of the
FIRST noted that the news item featured men only despite the fact that marathon
running is not an exclusively male sport. It pointed out that marathons were
traditionally held to be two races with a men's division winner and a women's division
winner. It argued that by excluding coverage of women, the news item was inaccurate
and biased and that this bias, which resulted in the invisibility of women winners and
participants, was likely to encourage discrimination against women. It pointed out
that other media organisations had included coverage of the women's division race and
that TVNZ was the sole exception.
TVNZ responded that it had assessed the complaint under standards G13 and G14 of
the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Standard G13 requires broadcasters:
G13 To avoid portraying people in a way which represents as inherently
inferior or is likely to encourage discrimination against any
section of the community on account of sex, race, age, disability,
occupation status, sexual orientation or the holding of any religious,
cultural or political belief. This requirement is not intended to prevent
the broadcast of material which is:
ii) the expression of genuinely-held opinion in a news or current affairs
iii) in the legitimate context of a humorous, satirical or dramatic work.
Standard G14 reads:
G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.
TVNZ explained that the selection of the item for inclusion in One Network News was
because there was an interesting news angle in that the winner of the men's division
was running in his first marathon. It maintained that it was not essential in every
sporting event in which both men and women competed to carry the results of both
divisions as a matter of course. It added that it was not until after the broadcast that it
learned that the women's division winner had set a new course record and propelled
herself into contention for the Commonwealth Games team. However, at the time, it
pointed out, that information had not been available to its news team and
consequently the reporter was under the impression that the strong news angle to the
story was that the men's division race had been won by a first time marathon racer.
It maintained that, given the information available to the news team, this was the
correct decision. Emphasising the news angle to the story, TVNZ denied there had
been any breach of broadcasting standards. It reasoned that as the report focused on
the men's division of the Fletcher Marathon, nobody was represented as inherently
inferior, nor was anyone discriminated against. Similarly, it argued, that as a report on
the men's division race, it was accurate, impartial and objective and accordingly not in
breach of standard G14.
Acknowledging that One Network News erred in not including the achievement of the
women's division winner, TVNZ reported that it would have done so had the
newsroom been in possession of all of the relevant facts. It expressed its regret and
advised that it had taken the opportunity to mention the women's division winner's
achievement in a separate item dealing with Commonwealth Games prospects two
The Authority accepted that the criteria for selection of an item for its news coverage
was different from that applying if TVNZ had been covering the whole marathon in a
sports programme. It observed that the brief clip showed a section near the start of
the race as well as the overall winner of the marathon as he reached the finish line. It
was not apparent, the Authority noted, that there were any women competing in the
race from either of those two brief clips, nor was any mention made of the record-
breaking time of the women's division winner.
The Authority considered first the complaint under standard G13. It considered, in a
similar context, the applicability of this standard in an earlier decision (No: 29/93)
when it was alleged that standard G13 was breached because of the small proportion
of time given to women's sports in TVNZ's news coverage. There the Authority
FIRST has a number of substantive arguments which all broadcasters should
take into account when reviewing editorial decisions about the news value of
items to be or not to be broadcast. The arguments about the imbalance of the
coverage of women's sports which are well-documented overseas include the
lack of sufficiently highly visible role models, the lack of awareness of
opportunities, the lack of encouragement to participate, and the lack of
sponsorship and other financial support. However, because of the overlap
between news judgment, which is the broadcaster's responsibility, and
broadcasting standards, a shared responsibility between the Authority and the
broadcaster, the Authority believed it was inappropriate to determine the
Although it concluded that it could not determine that complaint, the Authority
believed that the issue would be brought to the notice of broadcasters who would
continue to assess their performance in this area, and if necessary, increase the amount
of women's sports coverage.
In its assessment of the applicability of standard G13 on this occasion, the Authority
was guided by its earlier decision. The Authority repeats that it is concerned about
the comparative lack of visibility of broadcast coverage of women's sport and
reiterates the view expressed in that decision that it was appropriate for broadcasters
to respond to the concerns expressed by FIRST when making its editorial decisions.
In other decisions in which standard G13 has been assessed, the Authority has
confined its interpretation of the opening words of the standard "To avoid portraying
people..." to mean that the item must portray the people who are allegedly
represented as inherently inferior or who are discriminated against. On the reasoning
that no women were portrayed, the Authority was unable to conclude that they were
represented as inherently inferior or were discriminated against.
The Authority adds that it understands FIRST's reasoning, that because the only
people who were portrayed were men, women were deliberately marginalised and their
achievements represented as inherently less important than those of the men who
competed. The Authority considered that this broader interpretation of standard G13,
as it is presently drafted, was not sustainable and declined to uphold this aspect of the
The second aspect of the complaint was that standard G14 was breached because the
broadcast was not an accurate summary of the marathon. The Authority accepted
FIRST's arguments that since the item portrayed only men it was not an accurate
portrayal of an event in which, according to FIRST, "several thousands were women."
It acknowledged that marathons were traditionally considered to be two races, with a
men's winner and a women's winner and agreed with FIRST that the presentation was
biased since it only presented half the story when the women's result was equally
newsworthy. With reference to TVNZ's argument that its news team was unaware of
the significance of the women's result, the Authority decided that it was TVNZ's
responsibility to ensure that the race was reported accurately, and that included
checking the results of both races.
In addition, the Authority considered that if TVNZ was covering the race at all, it
should normally present coverage of both of the winners, unless there were unusual
circumstances. The Authority considered the omission of the women's race
constituted a further breach of standard G14 because it was not accurate or impartial.
When FIRST referred the complaint to the Authority, it alleged that two additional
standards of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice were breached by the item.
The standards which apply to news, current affairs and documentaries read:
G15 The standards of integrity and reliability of news sources should be
kept under constant review.
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 responded that it had already acknowledged that the broadcast should have
included reference to the women's race but repeated that it had been omitted because
incomplete information received from the race organisers did not indicate how
significant the result was. It suggested that it would be surprising if a journalist such
as the complainant could not remember a time when, because of the pressure of time
an editorial misjudgment was made because of incomplete or incorrect information.
The Authority concluded since neither of these standards was raised in FIRST's
original complaint to TVNZ, it could not consider them. However, it did observe that
had standard G19 been raised, it would have been inclined to uphold it. It considered
that viewers who had seen only TVNZ's coverage of the race would not have known
that there was a women's division race or even that there were any women competing.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upheld the complaint that the
item broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd on One Network News on 30 April
1994 was in breach of standard G14 of the Television Code of Broadcasting
Practice because it was not accurate or impartial.
It declined 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 1989. It does not intend to do so because it considers that on this
occasion the error occurred because of problems with TVNZ's collection of its
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
19 September 1994
FIRST's Complaint to Television New Zealand
Ms Judy McGregor of Palmerston North on behalf of FIRST (Female Images and
Representation in Sport Taskforce) in a letter dated 19 May 1994 complained to
Television New Zealand Ltd that its coverage of the Fletcher Marathon in One
Network News on 30 April 1994 was in breach of broadcasting standards.
FIRST observed that the news item featured only men despite the fact that marathon
running was not an exclusively male sport. It noted that of the nearly 6000 people
who participated in the marathon, "several" thousands were women. Pointing out that
normally marathons were considered to be two races, with a men's winner and a
women's winner, FIRST argued that by excluding coverage of women, the news item
was a biased presentation since it featured only half the story. It maintained that this
bias resulted in the invisibility of women winners and participants and was a clear
breach of the broadcaster's obligation not to encourage discrimination against women.
FIRST also noted that both RNZ and TV3 gave coverage of women participants, and
announced the winner of the women's division, both giving clear recognition that both
men and women run marathons and acknowledging the achievements of both.
FIRST pointed out that the complaint was not a programming matter, but a standards
issue concerned with the bias and lack of accuracy presented within a sports item. It
challenged TVNZ to argue that the decision not to include the women's race was a
matter of professional news judgment, pointing out that other news organisations had
included coverage of women, but that TVNZ's news judgment fell short of
FIRST referred to an earlier decision of the Authority (No: 29/93) which stated:
The Authority believed that by making this complaint, along with other
actions taken in bringing issues to the notice of broadcasters, FIRST
has ensured that broadcasters will continue to assess their own
performance in this area and, if need be, increase the amount of
women's sport coverage.
Concluding, FIRST maintained that this sports item fell short of the standards in the
Broadcasting Code of Practice.
TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint
TVNZ advised FIRST of its Complaints Committee's decision in a letter dated 31
It reported that the item gave the result of the men's division of the marathon and
emphasised the news angle that the winner had been running in his first marathon.
With respect to the women's division of the race, TVNZ noted that it had learned that
the winner had set a new record for the course and had propelled herself into
contention for the Commonwealth Games team. However, it explained, the
information provided by the organisers was inaccurate and did not allude to this
achievement. Consequently, TVNZ continued, the reporter was under the impression
that the strong news angle of the marathon was that the men's division had been won
by a first-timer.
TVNZ maintained that, given the information that was available, this was the correct
decision and argued that it was not essential to carry the results of both divisions as a
matter of routine.
However, TVNZ acknowledged that it was unfortunate that the newsroom did not
have the correct information about the women's race since it was also newsworthy. It
noted that two days later reference was made on One Network News to the women's
division winner's achievement in the context of her Commonwealth Games prospects.
It declined to uphold the complaint that women were represented as inherently
inferior or were discriminated against. It argued that as a report on the men's division
of the Fletcher Marathon, the report appeared to be accurate, impartial and objective.
Although it did not find a breach of standards, TVNZ acknowledged that it had erred
in not including the achievement of the women's division winner, but argued that it
had acted properly in recognising her achievement in a separate item about
Commonwealth Games prospects.
FIRST's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority
Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, in a letter received on 20 June 1994, Ms
McGregor on FIRST's behalf referred the complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a)
of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
In addition to standards G13 and G14 cited in its original letter of complaint, FIRST
raised two additional standards (G15 and G19) in response to TVNZ's reply.
It repeated its argument that by excluding the coverage of women the news item was a
clear breach of G14 since it was neither accurate, nor objective or impartial and that
the non representation of women encouraged treatment of them as inherently inferior.
FIRST refused to accept TVNZ's argument that G13 did not relate to material which
had not been broadcast, referring to Decision No: 18/90 in which the Authority had
considered the matter previously. It argued that in this case the material which was
not broadcast constituted a significant part of the story.
In response to TVNZ's explanation that they had relied on race organisers for
information, FIRST accused it of sloppy reporting and argued that TVNZ's integrity
was at risk if it relied on race organisers as a news source. It maintained that a check
should have been made of the statistical data in the newsroom which would have
indicated the significance of the women's record time. FIRST noted that both RNZ
and TV3 reports accurately reflected the event.
With respect to TVNZ's explanation of the events which led to the omission, FIRST
It is implied that the cameraman had filmed both male and female
participants in this exercise because TVNZ do not state that only
the male winner was filmed. This means the winner of the women's
division was edited from both the script and from the item broadcast
and lies on the cutting room floor. The extract used is not a true
reflection of the original event.
FIRST argued that however TVNZ chose to rationalise its coverage of the event, at the
end of the day there were two competing news stories and one was omitted. It
rejected TVNZ's attempt to rectify matters two days later when it reported the
women's race result and mentioned that the winner was a likely Commonwealth
In conclusion, FIRST described it as gratifying that TVNZ had acknowledged its error
in not reporting the women's race, but maintained that it must be held accountable for
the fact that this was a breach of the standards.
A copy of an AAP article from the Wanganui Chronicle was appended.
TVNZ's Response to the Authority
As is its practice, the Authority referred the complaint to the broadcaster. Its letter is
dated 20 June and TVNZ's reply, 1 July 1994.
Noting that it had already acknowledged that the women's division race should have
been included, TVNZ repeated that it was omitted because incomplete information
was received about the significance of the women's race results.
TVNZ expressed its disappointment that the complainant had chosen to reflect on the
professionalism of its journalists, adding:
We would be surprised if, in her very distinguished career as a
journalist, Ms McGregor cannot remember a time when (especially
under pressure and close to deadline) an editorial misjudgment was
made because of incorrect or incomplete information.
It concluded by repeating that the error was regretted and that it did not believe the
report on the Fletcher Marathon was in breach of the cited codes.
FIRST's Final Comment
When asked to make a brief final comment, FIRST, in a letter received on 14 July 1994
made several points.
FIRST commented that the tenor of TVNZ's responses suggested that a minor error
occurred for which blame should be laid at the door of the race organiser and an
implication that the complainant should simply accept the excuse and let the matter
lie. However, FIRST maintained that the absence of coverage of the women's winner
came within the wider context of the systematic exclusion of women in sport from
TVNZ's sports news.
FIRST noted further that every weekend thousands of women participated in sport,
yet Saturday night's sports news was an exclusively male affair because women are
told they must accept TVNZ's news judgment about what should be screened. It
The other justification for the systematic exclusion is that the omission of
women is a programming matter so there is no forum for women to complain
about their invisibility. Recently, TVNZ's head of sport, John Knowles, was
quoted in the national media on the subject of the very high ratings achieved by
the recent netball series. He said this would not mean more women's sport
because sport was not selected by TVNZ on a gender basis. Women's sport,
it appears, simply cannot win.
FIRST argued that the failure of TVNZ to report correctly the Fletcher marathon
indicated a lack of professionalism. It asserted that no news manager should rely on a
race organiser to perform a journalist's role and that TVNZ should have checks and
balances to ensure that accurate information is received from reliable sources.
In conclusion, FIRST expressed its belief that the omission constituted a breach of
broadcasting practice and that TVNZ needed to be held accountable for the breach.