BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

RCD Applicant Group and Otago Regional Council and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1996-178, 1996-179

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • RCD Applicant Group, The Otago Regional Council
Number
1996-178–179
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

The release or not of the rabbit calicivirus in New Zealand was discussed in a TV One

Tonight programme broadcast at 9.40pm on 17 September 1996. The item contained

footage of rabbits dead or dying from myxomatosis.

The Otago Regional Council and the RCD Applicant Group complained to Television

New Zealand Ltd about the item. Both said that the representation of the rabbits

dying or dead from myxomatosis on the item breached standards of accuracy. They

also complained about the item's lack of balance, and the Council considered the

visuals of rabbits with myxomatosis breached the standard requiring good taste and

decency.

TVNZ upheld the accuracy complaint and argued that it had taken proper action in

broadcasting a statement of correction at the end of the next night's Tonight

programme. It denied that the item was unbalanced or that the footage breached the

good taste standard.

Both complainants considered the statement of correction was given insufficient

prominence, and the Council was not satisfied with TVNZ's decision in relation to the

issue of taste and decency. The complaints were referred 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 complaints.


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read

the correspondence (summarised in the Appendices). As is its practice, the Authority

determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

The debate on whether or not to introduce the calicivirus to reduce the rabbit

population in New Zealand was the subject of a TV One Tonight Special News

Report broadcast at 9.40pm on 17 September 1996. The item contained footage of

rabbits dead or dying from myxomatosis.

Believing that the representation on the item of rabbits dead or dying from

myxomatosis on the item breached standards of accuracy, the Otago Regional Council

and the RCD Applicant Group complained to TVNZ. The Council was also of the

view that the visuals of the rabbits breached standards of decency and taste. It was

alleged by the Group that the "Special Report" was previewed and introduced as being

about RCD when the main content of the programme was about the Official

Information Act and the withholding of information. The Council believed that the

item gave air to sentiment opposed to RCD with no balancing comment or response.

TVNZ assessed the complaints under standards G1, G2, G6 and G20 of the

Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The first three require broadcasters:

G1  To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and

taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which

any language or behaviour exists.


G6  To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political

matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.

Standard G20 provides:


G20 No set formula can be advanced for the allocation of time to interested

parties on controversial 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.


TVNZ acknowledged its error in using the pictures of the rabbits dying of

myxomatosis. As a consequence on the Tonight programme broadcast on the

following evening it stated:

Further to our Special Report last night on the introduction of calicivirus to

reduce rabbit populations in Australia the virus is also being considered for

release here. Last night's report included this footage of rabbits that died from

myxomatosis which was trialled in New Zealand in the early 1950s. The

footage should not have been used to indicate how rabbits die from calicivirus.

Indeed... Canterbury Regional Council says rabbits infected by calicivirus

suffer no visible effects... no lesions as in myxomatosis.... Instead it puts them

to sleep and they die. Public submissions on the calicivirus are open until

November 4.


TVNZ considered this apology provided sufficient action to remedy the breach of

standard G1.

In respect of standard G2, TVNZ considered that the footage of the rabbits would

have been appropriate in an item about myxomatosis or where myxomatosis was

contrasted to RCD. The shots, it said, were inappropriate on this occasion because

they were inaccurate and not because they breached the taste and decency

requirements.

In relation to standards G6 and G20, TVNZ disagreed that the item focussed on the

withholding of information; explaining that the question of the amount of information

being provided by the Calici Review Group formed only a small part of the item. It

believed that the item was balanced, and that it had fulfilled its obligation both within

the item, and in the longer period of interest, to present all significant sides in as fair a

way as possible.

Both the Council and the Group, upon referral of the complaints to the Authority,

considered the statement of correction had been given insufficient prominence. The

Group observed that the apology was issued only once, with no previewing and was

placed at the end of the night's "Special Report" item. The Council maintained that

the footage of the rabbits breached standard G2.

The Authority in examining the item concurs with TVNZ that standard G1 was

breached by the screening of rabbits dying of myxomatosis. However, while noting

that the error made in the footage of the dying rabbits was unfortunate and should

never have occurred, as the statement of correction was broadcast on the following

evening's Tonight programme and fully explained the error which had occurred, the

Authority is of the view that the statement which was broadcast is sufficient to

rectify the inaccuracy.

As for the complaint that the broadcast breached the standard of good taste, the

Authority notes that the item was concerned with killing rabbits. Death from

myxomatosis is apparently more physically unpleasant than death from rabbit

calicivirus, but as the error was explained in the statement, the Authority does not

believe that the broadcast breached standard G2.

 

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
17 December 1996

Appendix I


RCD Applicant Group's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd -

18 September 1996

Graeme Martin, Chair of the RCD Applicant Group of Dunedin, complained to

Television New Zealand Ltd on behalf of the Group about a TV One Tonight Special

News Report screened at 9.40pm on 17 September 1996.

Mr Martin said that the report had been previewed and introduced as being about

rabbit calici disease (RCD). However, the main content was about the Official

Information Act, and the withholding of information. It also incorrectly showed

pictures of rabbits dead or dying from myxomatosis whereas Mr Martin said, animals

dying of RCD do not show any external signs of distress. He contended that the

programme presented a seriously misleading view of RCD and considered that the

report lacked quality and accuracy and blatantly misrepresented its advertised topic.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 1 October 1996

TVNZ considered the RCD Applicant Group's complaint in the context of standards

G1 and G6 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

TVNZ acknowledged its error in using pictures of rabbits dying of myxomatosis. As a

consequence on the Tonight programme on the following evening (18 September), it

had broadcast the following:

Further to our special report last night on the introduction of calicivirus to

reduce rabbit populations in Australia ... the virus is also being considered for

release here ... last night's report included this footage of rabbits that died from

myxomatosis which was trialled in New Zealand in the early 1950s. The footage

should not have been used to indicate how rabbits die from calicivirus.

Indeed...the Canterbury Regional Council says rabbits infected by calicivirus

suffer no visible effects...no lesions as in myxomatosis....Instead it puts them to

sleep and they die. Public submissions on the calicivirus are open until

November 4.

TVNZ upheld the Group's complaint under standard G1 but said that the error had

been corrected and nothing further was warranted.

In respect of the standard G6 complaint, TVNZ disagreed that the programme was

about the Official Information Act and the withholding of information. The report, it

said, focussed on what happened once the application had been made to release the

virus. TVNZ did not believe it was at fault in the manner the programme was trailered

nor did it believe the report was in any way unbalanced.

The Group's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 29 October

1996

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's action on the aspect upheld, Mr Martin, on behalf of the

Group, referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a)

of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

The Group maintained that TVNZ made a serious error in showing the myxomatosis

footage because the item was about RCD and not myxomatosis, and even if they had

been accurate the pictures were not relevant to the text and interviews shown in the

item.

The Group considered that the apology by TVNZ was given inadequate prominence

and so did not get the coverage of the original error. The apology it observed was

issued only once, with no previewing and was placed at the end of the night's "Special

Report" item.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 5 November 1996

TVNZ pointed out that Mr Martin's letter of referral included the following:

We pursue the complaint simply because the apology was given inadequate

prominence and so did not get the coverage of the original error.

Accordingly, it limited the response to a consideration only of the apology.

TVNZ noted that the correction to the item took 35 seconds to read which was

considerably longer than the picture sequence to which it referred. It noted that the

entire item on 17 September lasted 2 minutes and 37 seconds.

TVNZ said that it was its view that, unlike readers of newspapers (who scanned

headlines and rarely absorb all that the paper contains), viewers of a television bulletin

watch the programme through. They also frequently choose the same news

programme as their source of information

The Group's Final Comment - 14 November 1996

Mr Martin's response on behalf of the Group emphasised that the "Special Report"

component of the Tonight programme was not a "news item flash' but carried an

expectation of being a more studied statement of a single issue. Accordingly the

Group considered that the correction to the error made in the item about RCD should

have been given as much prominence as possible. They considered this could have

been achieved by an apology at the start of the "Special Report" on 18 September

1996 (the night following the original broadcast).

Appendix II

Otago Regional Council's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 18

September 1996

Louise Rosson, Chairperson of the Otago Regional Council complained to Television

New Zealand Ltd on behalf of the Council about the news item broadcast on TV One

on 17 September 1996 (the subject of the complaint in Appendix I).

The first part of the Council's complaint was that the film clip showed rabbits dying

of myxomatosis when the item was about RCD. The Council also added that it

considered that this clip was irrelevant to the general theme of the item, and given the

verbal content of the programme it failed to observe good taste and decency by

irrelevantly showing pictures of dying and decaying rabbits. The Council argued that

the content was grossly unbalanced and misleading because of its use of myxomatosis

pictures.

Secondly, the Council considered the programme was not balanced in that it gave air to

sentiment opposed to RCD with no balancing comment

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 1 October 1996

The complaint was assessed under standards G1, G2, G6 and G20 of the Television

Code of Broadcasting Practice.

In relation to standard G1 and the pictures of the rabbits with myxomatosis the

Council received the same response as the Applicant Group (see Appendix 1).

TVNZ did not believe standard G2 had been breached. It considered that the footage

of the rabbits would have been appropriate in a item about myxomatosis or where

myxomatosis was contrasted to RCD. The shots were inappropriate on this occasion

because they were inaccurate and not because they breached the taste and decency

requirements.

In relation to standard G6, TVNZ pointed out that the standard was drawn from

section 4(1)(d) of the Broadcasting Act in which it was made clear that the

requirement was to "present significant points of view in the same programme or in

other programmes within the period of current interest." It noted that since January

14 1996 programmes on calicivirus had been broadcast, presenting a wide range of

views and an extensive catalogue of views. The item being complained about added

fresh opinion and fresh information. TVNZ also quoted extracts from within the item

which it said were views in favour of the virus being used, and which presented

balance within the item.

In relation to standard G20, TVNZ said that it covered much the same area as standard

G6 and it believed it had fulfilled its obligation both to the item and to the wider

period of current interest, to present all significant sides in as fair a way as possible.

The Council's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority -30 October

1996

Dissatisfied with the action taken in respect of the breach of standard G1 and the

decision in relation to standard G2 the Council referred the complaint to the

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

The Council did not, in relation to standard G1 accept that the apology was given

sufficient prominence. It stated that, contrary to what the Council wanted, the

apology was not previewed and it was put at the end of the special report the next

night. In relation to standard G2 the Council believed that taste and decency had been

breached by the focus on the suffering rabbits.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 5 November 1996

In relation to standard G1 TVNZ's response was as set out in relation to the Group's

complaint in Appendix I.

The Council's Final Comment - 14 November 1996

The Council commented that TVNZ in broadcasting the apology for the inaccurate

footage, had failed to give consideration to its placement at a prominent time.