van der Merwe and Mediaworks TV Ltd - 2019-015 (24 June 2019)
- Paula Rose QSO
- Wendy Palmer
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Tracy van der Merwe
ProgrammeHarnas Wildlife Rescue Camp
BroadcasterMediaWorks TV Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The reality television series, Harnas Wildlife Rescue Camp, profiles various workers and volunteers and their day-to-day activities at the Harnas Wildlife Foundation (Harnas) in Namibia. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that Harnas was being misleadingly promoted through the programme as an ethical wildlife sanctuary, when in the complainant’s view, the facility and conditions were inhumane. The Authority found that the programme was presented as a slice-of-life, observational documentary, which did not shy away from presenting difficult material and the challenges facing Harnas. As such, viewers were shown the conditions at Harnas and were provided with sufficient information to make up their own minds about the welfare of the animals. On this occasion therefore, the harm alleged to have been caused did not outweigh the right to freedom of expression.
Not Upheld: Accuracy
 The reality television series, Harnas Wildlife Rescue Camp, profiles various workers and volunteers and their day-to-day activities at the Harnas Wildlife Foundation (Harnas) in Namibia, a farm for wild African animals.
 During the particular episode subject to complaint, the programme focused on the arrival of a pangolin and the shooting of a released cheetah by a local farmer.
 This episode was broadcast at 9.30pm on 17 February 2019 on ThreeLife. In considering this complaint, we have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 Tracy van der Merwe complained that the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. She was primarily concerned that Harnas was being promoted through the reality television series as an ethical animal sanctuary, when in her view, the facility and the conditions at Harnas were inhumane. She submitted:
- Harnas was described by the broadcaster as ‘a paradise in Namibia’, but the programme showed ‘malnourished and unhealthy’ wild animals in small enclosures, with ‘very poor facilities’ and in ‘inhumane conditions.’
- Truly ethical wildlife sanctuaries would be horrified by the conditions.
- The standards did not easily fit her complaint, but she considered that the accuracy standard was the most relevant to her concerns.
 MediaWorks responded:
- It could not identify any misleading or inaccurate material in the broadcast.
- While the complainant was concerned about the conditions, this was not an accuracy issue. The broadcast showed viewers how the animals were housed, and the programme was therefore not inaccurate or misleading.
 In response, Ms van der Merwe queried how she could complain about the conditions at Harnas and have the programme taken off air. Authority staff pointed the complainant to the orders available to the Authority under the Broadcasting Act 1989, which do not include a general power to order that a programme be taken off air permanently, and advised that, if she was concerned about the facility generally, she could report this to an animal welfare organisation.
 The accuracy standard (Standard 9) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.
 The Authority’s determination under this standard occurs in two stages: first, whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading; and second, whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure that the programme was accurate and did not mislead.1
 When we consider a complaint that broadcasting standards have been breached, we first weigh the important right to freedom of expression, and the value of the programme, against the harm alleged to have been caused. In this case, the complainant has argued that the programme caused harm to audiences through the misleading promotion of Harnas as an ethical wildlife sanctuary.
 The key issue for us is in this case is whether this particular episode of the programme was misleading. Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.2
 In order to determine whether the programme was misleading, we first considered whether Harnas Wildlife Rescue Camp was a news, current affairs or factual programme to which the accuracy standard applied.
 As a documentary-style reality television series, Harnas Wildlife Rescue Camp can be described as a factual programme. This particular episode provided details about a small number of animals at Harnas and presented audiences with information about the facility, its workers and their day-to-day activities, that audiences would reasonably expect to be authoritative and truthful.3
 It is not our role to make a definitive finding on whether the treatment of the animals at Harnas was ethical or whether Harnas is an ethical operation. Animal welfare organisations are better placed to make this judgement. Our role is to determine whether broadcasting standards have been breached and whether viewers would have been misled about the quality or standard of care of the animals at Harnas.
 There were no express statements made during this particular episode of Harnas Wildlife Rescue Camp that would suggest to viewers that Harnas claims that its practices or treatment of animals is exemplary, or that Harnas should be seen as a model sanctuary for wild animals.
 While Harnas’ work was presented as positive and worthwhile, the programme was focused on the workers, their relationships with the animals they cared for and their day-to-day activities, rather than the promotion of Harnas as a model wildlife reserve. The programme was presented as a slice-of-life, observational documentary, providing viewers with a sense of the day-to-day challenges faced by such a facility.
 The complainant raised her concern that Harnas was described by the broadcaster as a ‘paradise’ in the electronic programme guide. MediaWorks’ full description for the programme on its website reads:4
A paradise in Namibia, created by the Harnas Wildlife Foundation, allows lions, baboons, wild dogs, cheetahs, mongooses and antelopes to thrive and be protected by a passionate team of animal lovers.
 We do not consider that the programme description, particularly the reference to Harnas as a ‘paradise’, amounts to a factual statement about Harnas which would result in audiences being misled. The programme description can be distinguished as a statement of advocacy, or promotional material for the programme, presented from a particular point of view, which viewers would not expect to be authoritative on the question of animal welfare.
 The programme does not include any claims that it is a model sanctuary. Further, the overall impression created by the programme was that while there is good work being done at Harnas, it is not perfect and things can, and do, go wrong. The programme did not shy away from presenting difficult material (such as the death of the released cheetah) and highlighted the challenges facing the organisation and its workers.
 Viewers are shown the conditions at Harnas and can see for themselves how the animals are treated. They are therefore provided with sufficient factual information to make up their own minds about the welfare of the animals. Some viewers, like the complainant, may not agree with Harnas’ practices or with the way animals are housed. If they are concerned, there are other avenues available to them, such as complaints to animal welfare organisations.
 For these reasons, we do not consider audiences were likely to be misled by the broadcast and the harm alleged to have been caused by the complainant on this occasion did not outweigh the right to freedom of expression.
 Having found the programme was not misleading, we are not required to make a determination on whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure the accuracy of the programme.
 We therefore do not uphold this complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
24 June 2019
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority:
1 Tracy van der Merwe’s formal complaint – 20 February 2019
2 MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 20 March 2019
3 Ms van der Merwe’s referral to the Authority – 22 March 2019
4 MediaWorks’ final comments – 10 April 2019
5 Ms van der Merwe’s final comments – 16 April 2019
1 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
2 As above, page 19
3 As above, page 18
4 See: Harnas Wildlife Rescue Camp (Threenow.co.nz)