BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Pullar and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1998-084

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • J Withers
Dated
Complainant
  • Nick Pullar
Number
1998-084
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

Coverage of the Values in Education conference on One Network News at 6.00pm on

26 March 1998 included an interview with a delegate who appeared to endorse the

Prime Minister's views as articulated in her speech to the conference.

Mr Pullar, the delegate who was interviewed, complained to Television New Zealand

Ltd, the broadcaster, that his remarks were reported out of context and totally

misrepresented his position. In addition, he complained that the item omitted to name

the organisation which he represented.

In its response, TVNZ conceded that, as presented, Mr Pullar appeared to take a

neutral stance and therefore the extract which was broadcast did not fairly represent

his views. It apologised and advised it had upheld the complaint that standards G4,

G14 and G19 were breached. It did not consider an on-air apology was appropriate.

Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ, Mr Pullar referred the complaint to the

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

For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the

action taken was insufficient.


Decision

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

correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). On this occasion, the Authority

determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

At the conclusion of the Values in Education conference, two delegates who were

interviewed commented on the Prime Minister's speech. A news item broadcast on

26 March 1998 on One Network News at 6.00pm reported those comments.

Mr Pullar, one of the delegates interviewed, complained to TVNZ that his comments

were edited in such a way that his views were misrepresented. It appeared, he wrote,

that he endorsed the positions articulated by the Prime Minister in her speech, when

in fact nothing could be further from the truth. In addition, he complained, the

organisation which he represented was not identified in the on screen credit which

named him. He pointed out that he had made it clear to the reporter who he

represented, and said he could not understand why the name of his organisation was

omitted.

TVNZ considered the complaint under the standards G4, G14 and G19 of the

Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which were nominated by Mr Pullar. The

first standard requires broadcasters:

G4    To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in

any programme.


The other standards read:
                       

G14    News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.

G19    Care must be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure the

extracts used are a true reflection and not a distortion of the original

event or the overall views expressed.


Turning to the item, TVNZ noted that Mr Pullar's comments followed an

endorsement of the Prime Minister's stance by Sir Paul Reeves, who was identified as

a "former Governor General" in an on-screen caption. Mr Pullar was seen to say:

It certainly seems with the code of social responsibility and these sorts of

things that she's wanting to turn New Zealand into a more moralistic society

than it is at the moment.


TVNZ conceded that, as presented, Mr Pullar's comment did appear to take a neutral

stance. It reported that it had been intended to include a short line of script before Mr

Pullar's appearance, but that had been inadvertently omitted late in the editing

process. As a consequence, TVNZ advised, it upheld the complaint that as the extract

did not reflect his overall views, it breached standard G19. It followed logically, it

continued, that Mr Pullar was therefore treated unfairly and standards G4 and G14

were also breached.

In considering the omission of the name of the association in the caption, TVNZ

submitted that the rather long title made it impractical to include it under Mr Pullar's

name. Further, it did not believe that for most viewers the name of the organisation

would have immediately identified Mr Pullar as holding views different from the

Prime Minister. Recognising that Mr Pullar was disappointed that some points he

made were not included in the broadcast, TVNZ emphasised that the Prime Minister's

"surprising comments" were the main focus of the item, and that the comments from

him and Sir Paul Reeves, the other delegate interviewed, were included to provide a

quick reaction to the proposals.

Having upheld the complaint, TVNZ observed that it did not consider that an on-air

correction was appropriate because, it argued, out of the context of the original story,

the comments would make very little sense to viewers.

The Authority deals first with the complaint that the action taken by TVNZ, having

upheld the complaint, was insufficient. It notes that TVNZ acknowledged that the

editing of the item distorted Mr Pullar's views and was unfair to him. It advised that

the matter had been drawn to the attention of the reporter and editorial staff

concerned, and offered its apologies. The Authority also notes TVNZ's reassurance

that it took the matter very seriously and intended to learn from the mistake. In the

circumstances, the Authority considers that the action taken by TVNZ was sufficient,

and it is not convinced that the breach could usefully be corrected on air, as requested

by the complainant. It acknowledges TVNZ's argument that such a correction has

little or no relevance for viewers when it is remote from the original brief news item.

The Authority then turns to Mr Pullar's complaint that it was unfair not to name the

organisation which he represented in a caption. It accepts that it is a common

newsroom practice to identify speakers by name and, if relevant, by the name of the

organisation they represent. In this case, given the effect of the editing of his

comments, the Authority believes it could have been more unfair - and embarrassing -

to Mr Pullar had he been identified as representing the organisation. The failure to

link him with the group possibly, in the Authority's view, saved further

embarrassment because the possible damage was limited to him as an individual.

Notwithstanding that, the Authority understands that those who knew Mr Pullar,

particularly in his professional capacity, could well have been mystified by the

statement he appeared to have made which seemed to be at odds with his known

views. The Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the failure to include the

caption was unfair.

 

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
30 July 1988

Appendix


Nick Pullar's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 31 March 1998

Mr Pullar of Auckland complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about a news item

broadcast on One Network News on 26 March 1998 at 6.00pm.


The item reported on the Values in Education conference which was held in

Wellington, and referred to the speech made by the Prime Minister. Mr Pullar noted

that he was interviewed by a reporter covering the Prime Minister's speech, and he

subsequently appeared in the item.

Mr Pullar complained that the item was biased and his comments were reported out of

context. He wrote:
           

If you review the tape that was made of my full interview, I think that you

will agree that I do not support the positions that Mrs Shipley articulated in

her speech. However, when edited and broadcast, it appeared I actually

endorsed what Mrs Shipley said. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In addition, he complained, the name of the organisation which he represented, The

New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, was not shown, even though

he had made it clear to the reporter who he represented.


Mr Pullar said he did not understand why this was the case, as Sir Paul Reeves

 was shown with a credit "Former Governor General".


Mr Pullar said he considered he was owed an apology, and ought to have his position

presented correctly by TVNZ.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint – 24 April 1998

TVNZ advised that it had considered the complaint under standards G4, G14 and G19

of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.


It noted that Mr Pullar's comments followed remarks made by Sir Paul Reeves, who

strongly supported the Prime Minister's position. He was seen saying:

It certainly seems with the code of social responsibility and these sort of

things that she's wanting to turn New Zealand into a more moralistic society

than it is at the moment.


TVNZ observed that it was common practice in news, where it was important to

achieve balance, to follow an endorsement (such as from Sir Paul Reeves) with a

comment from an opposing point of view. That had been done on this occasion.

However, TVNZ conceded, as presented, Mr Pullar's comment appeared to take a

neutral stance. It advised that its investigation revealed that there was originally an

intention to include a short line of script between the two comments, but the line was

inadvertently dropped in the editing process.

As a consequence, TVNZ agreed, the extract from Mr Pullar's interview did not

reflect the overall views expressed by him, and was in breach of standard G19. It

followed logically, TVNZ added, that he was treated unfairly and standard G4 was

also breached, as was standard G14.

TVNZ apologised for so treating him and for any embarrassment his appearance on

One Network News had caused him. It advised that the matter had been discussed at

length with the reporter and editorial staff concerned.

In considering the matter of not identifying the organisation Mr Pullar belonged to,

TVNZ said that the rather long title would have been impractical to include under his

name. It also suggested that the name of the organisation would not automatically, to

most viewers, put him on the other side of the fence to Mrs Shipley. The intention

had been, it wrote, to include Mr Pullar as an individual who had attended the

conference, heard Mrs Shipley's remarks, and found them wanting.

TVNZ recognised that Mr Pullar was disappointed that some other points he made

during the interview were not included in the broadcast, but noted that Mrs Shipley's

comments were the focus of the item, and that he and Sir Paul Reeves provided a brief

reaction to them.

TVNZ advised that as with all upheld decisions, it took the matter very seriously, and

that its aim was to learn from the mistake. It did not believe an on-air correction was

appropriate since his comments would make very little sense to viewers after the

length of time which had elapsed since the item's screening.

Mr Pullar's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 19 May 1998

Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ, having upheld his complaint, Mr Pullar

referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting

Act 1989.

Mr Pullar noted that TVNZ had admitted misrepresenting his position and had

apologised. However, he did not agree with its reasons for not including his

organisation's name. In his opinion, TVNZ had a duty to present him as a member of

his organisation, as he made it clear to the reporter that he was not merely an

individual at the conference.

He argued that the fact that his organisation's name was long was not a reason to omit

it. He suggested it would have been possible to present it on two lines, or to

abbreviate it.

Secondly, he complained that in its response TVNZ had acknowledged it was in the

wrong, and had apologised, but was not willing to do anything about it. He argued

that when print or radio media made a mistake, they often printed or broadcast a

correction. Mr Pullar said he believed he was entitled to have his position correctly

represented on One Network News. He considered there should be sanctions for

broadcasters who violated the standards of their craft, and that TVNZ should satisfy

him that it meant what it said in relation to its apology.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 3 June 1998

TVNZ advised that it had nothing further to add. It concluded:

We do not believe that in the particular circumstances of the complaint, a

meaningful on-air correction can be made – meaningful meaning one that will

make any sense to anyone other than the complainant.


Mr Pullar's Final Comment – 17 June 1998

Mr Pullar repeated that he was disappointed with TVNZ's response, adding that he

considered it an example of the arrogance it had displayed throughout its dealings with

his complaint.

Mr Pullar did not agree with TVNZ's claim that an on air correction would not be

meaningful and said that he had evidence that TVNZ was factually incorrect in making

that claim.

First, he noted, other media made retractions and apologies when the circumstances

warranted. He did not consider the passage of time to be relevant, "since it has

mostly been TVNZ's delay in investigating...a very simple complaint". He did not

believe that TVNZ should be allowed to embarrass him and then escape without an on

air correction simply because they had obfuscated, he added.

Secondly, Mr Pullar maintained that TVNZ's claim that the correction would only

have meaning for him was untrue. He pointed out that he represented his Association

at the conference, and those members who watched the broadcast were shocked and

surprised at his apparent support for Mrs Shipley. In addition, he said, friends and

relatives in the wider community were similarly shocked. He pointed out that he had

been well known at Auckland University during his time there and people who had

known him in that context had also expressed concern to him.

Finally, Mr Pullar wrote, TVNZ failed to address the issue of its failure to credit him

on screen with the name of the Association. He noted that TVNZ's justification was

that the name of the Association was too long, and that viewers would not have

known what it meant. He pointed out that he had told the reporter that he

represented the organisation. He considered there was no reason why the credit could

not have been included on screen. The name of the Association was very clear about

what it represented, he wrote. He acknowledged that some viewers would not know

what it stood for, but asked whether TVNZ was justified in removing every credit

simply because someone might not understand. Mr Pullar enclosed a letter from a

Councillor of the Association which expressed his concerns about the inaccurate

impression given by the excerpt from the interview which was broadcast.