BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Jackson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1999-019

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • J Withers
Dated
Complainant
  • Peter Jackson
Number
1999-019
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

It was reported on One Network News on 18 November 1998 that a yacht which had been grounded in a bay in the Far North had been looted, and that the abandoned boat had been stripped of its electronic gear, solar power unit and rigging.

Mr Jackson complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the report was grossly exaggerated. He advised that the boat had not been abandoned, and had not been stripped by looters. He acknowledged that some small items had been stolen but noted that all but one of those items had been recovered by the police and returned to the owner. Mr Jackson contended that the report had done the Far North community considerable harm and its errors warranted an apology.

TVNZ responded that its report was accurate based on the information known on the evening of the broadcast, but accepted that further information which came to light later revealed that the yacht had not been looted. Nevertheless, it noted, those interviewed at the time, including the police, believed that a substantial amount of the yacht’s gear had been stolen. TVNZ pointed to contemporaneous print reports which carried the same story to support its assertion that it accurately reported events known at the time. It declined to uphold the complaint.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Jackson 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.

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

A yacht, grounded in a bay in the Far North, had been looted and stripped of its electronic gear, solar power and other equipment, according to a report on One Network News broadcast on 18 November 1998 between 6.00–7.00pm. The reporter, who was at the scene, described the yacht as having been abandoned, and reported that in spite of a tapu placed on the scene in acknowledgment that one of those aboard had been drowned, looters had proceeded to strip the boat of some of its expensive gear. Police, the harbourmaster and local Maori who were interviewed all expressed outrage at what was described as a despicable act.

Mr Jackson complained to TVNZ that the report had only a very small link with the truth and was grossly exaggerated. First, he said, the yacht had not been abandoned when the reporter was filming at the scene, and had not been abandoned at any time. Further, it was not stripped by looters. Mr Jackson noted that two couples had removed some small items from the yacht, but had been approached by the Police on the beach and those items had been restored to the owner. He noted that the only item known to have been stolen was a compass. The gear referred to in the item – the electronic gear, the solar power unit and rigging – had in fact been removed by Police for storage in Kaitaia, he advised. Mr Jackson acknowledged that it was known to Police that some people had entered the boat after it was grounded, but he emphasised that only one piece of equipment was known to have been stolen. It was inaccurate, he maintained, to state that it had been stripped by looters. In Mr Jackson’s view, the report was damaging to the Far North community as it exacerbated the effects of other negative publicity about the district. He sought an apology from TVNZ.

In its response, TVNZ advised that it had considered the complaint under standards G1 and G19 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Standard G1 requires broadcasters:

G1  To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

The other standard reads:

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.

TVNZ began with the observation that Mr Jackson’s complaint had been lodged on 1 December, some ten days after the broadcast. It suggested that the detail of any news story often seemed different with the benefit of hindsight, and argued that it was important to consider the story on the basis of what had been known at the time.

TVNZ also noted that stories in various newspapers written at the time were similar to the television item, because they reported that the yacht had been looted and that many people in the community, including police and local Maori, had been outraged.

Turning to the item itself, TVNZ noted that the police who were interviewed had described the looters as "despicable", as had the harbourmaster. Those comments, it argued, were not consistent with the fact that at the time the allegedly stolen items were in fact in the safekeeping of Kaitaia police. It repeated that these comments confirmed its view that on the basis of what was known at the time, its report was accurate. It rejected the notion that the standard be applied retrospectively to something which had not been known at the time of the broadcast. It maintained that the item was properly sourced, and had reflected accurately what was believed to be the truth at the time.

With respect to the complaint under standard G19, TVNZ responded that common sense required that it be applied to the event as it was perceived at the time. It argued that the newspaper reports confirmed that its report was in line with then current understanding. TVNZ advised that it had declined to uphold the complaint.

In his referral to the Authority, Mr Jackson emphasised that his motivation in bringing the complaint was his belief that the item had done considerable damage to the Far North community. He acknowledged that the behaviour of some individuals might have been "despicable", but considered that the incident had been seriously exaggerated by TVNZ, which warranted a retraction and apology.

Dealing with TVNZ’s arguments, he commented first on its claim that he had benefited from hindsight. He rejected that proposition, and argued that the items mentioned in the item as having been looted had at that time already been placed in the safekeeping of the police. The fact that other media were guilty of the same exaggeration did not, in his view, absolve TVNZ from its responsibility to ensure its report was accurate. Next, referring to the remarks made by the police officer and the harbourmaster when interviewed, Mr Jackson argued that no evidence had been provided to support the proposition that they were responding with knowledge about what they knew to have happened, or whether they were simply responding to questions put by the reporter. Mr Jackson said he suspected it was the latter, as he believed that neither, particularly the police officer, had grounds to believe the yacht had been looted.

With respect to TVNZ’s contention that the yacht had been abandoned, Mr Jackson responded that it might have been unattended when the reporter visited the scene, but it had never been abandoned. He conceded that some items, one of which had not been recovered, had been taken from the yacht, and that there was angry local reaction to that. However, he maintained, the report broadcast grossly exaggerated the matter and the emotive description of the yacht being "stripped by looters" had done significant damage to the reputation of the community.

In its report to the Authority, TVNZ repeated its assertion that the story accurately reflected what was known at the time of the broadcast. It expressed its disappointment that Mr Jackson had chosen to impugn the integrity of a senior reporter by implying that he had put words into the mouths of his interviewees. On the matter of the abandonment of the vessel, TVNZ reported that its reporter was on the spot, and that the boat had then been left completely unattended.

TVNZ did not deny that hindsight allowed the story to be seen in a different light. However, it stressed, the item accurately reflected the information known at the time.

In his final comment, Mr Jackson asserted that no credible source would have informed the reporter that the items listed had been stolen. Both the owner and the police knew that the items had been removed for safekeeping. There was never any suggestion that the items had been stolen, he emphasised.

Mr Jackson acknowledged that TVNZ was quite proper in reporting the fact that property had been taken from the boat, but reiterated that it erred inexcusably in listing specific items which it said had been stolen, but in fact were held in storage by the police, and in stating that the boat had been "stripped by looters". Mr Jackson repeated that such publicity had a deleterious effect on the Far North community.

In its response to this final comment, TVNZ expressed some irritation with Mr Jackson’s correspondence. It stressed that its reporter was at the scene and that he had obtained his information directly from police, harbour authorities and others at the time. It repeated that it held to the view that what was broadcast was what was believed to be the truth at the time, and that the statements made by the reporter were corroborated on screen by the harbour master and the police representative. It strongly denied that the report was grossly exaggerated.

The Authority’s Findings

The Authority deals first with the complaint that standard G1 was breached because the item did not reflect accurately the circumstances following the grounding of the yacht. It notes that the facts reported were that the boat had been raided by looters and stripped of its expensive electronic gear. Interviews with the police spokesperson and the harbour warden confirmed that gear had indeed gone missing. The report then emphasised that the behaviour of those responsible had been widely condemned in the community.

The complainant’s objection to the item was that in fact the gear described as stolen had been removed for safekeeping by the police. Items which had been stolen from the yacht were small and some had already been recovered by police.

The Authority notes TVNZ’s point that it reported accurately what was known at the time and that the tenor of TVNZ’s report – that gear was looted from the boat – was echoed in print reports of the yacht’s grounding which were published about the same time. It was not until later that it became clear that the items stolen did not include the expensive electronic gear and rigging as described in TVNZ’s report. The question for the Authority is whether the report "seriously misled" the audience, as the complainant claimed and thus breached the requirement for truth and accuracy.

The Authority finds persuasive TVNZ’s point that its reporter was at the scene when the report was made. It accepts that the report was later proved to have exaggerated the extent of the looting, but notes nevertheless that it was accurate to report that several items had been taken from the boat, and that this fact had aroused the ire of the community and officials. The Authority concludes that based on the information known at the time, TVNZ’s report did not breach standard G1.

It then turns to the complaint that the item was edited in such a way as to distort the facts. It finds no breach of this standard either, having concluded that the report accurately represented what was known at the time, and that it was the work of a reporter at the scene, who had access to officials involved in the incident.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
25 February 1999

Appendix

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

Mr Jackson’s complaint to TVNZ Ltd – 1 December 1998

TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 14 December 1998

Mr Jackson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 15 December 1998

TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 11 January 1998

Mr Jackson’s Final Comment – 15 January 1999

TVNZ’s Response to the Final Comment – 22 January 1999