Article Title:Anti-gay Beat Up @ 7
Category:Television
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:20th February 2005 - 12:00 pm
Published by:GayNZ.com
NDHA link:http://ndhadeliver.natlib.govt.nz/ArcAggregator/arcView/frameView/IE28141248/http://www.gaynz.com/articles/publish/19/article_621.php
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Story ID:621
Text:On 2 December last year, in the lead-up to final vote in Parliament on the Civil Union Bill, TVNZ's flagship current affairs programme Close Up @ 7 ran an 0900 phone poll asking the question "Should gay relationships be legally recognised?". The overwhelming majority of callers paid 99 cents to say "no", and host Susan Wood implied in her closing comment on the show that the poll was indicative of public feeling. Media watchdog group GayWatch and GayNZ.com filed a joint complaint with TVNZ under the Broadcasting Code on the basis that their item was unbalanced, contained false information, and had misled viewers. TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint, which GayWatch and GayNZ.com will now be taken to appeal at the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA). Below is TVNZ's reply to the original complaint, and GayWatch/GayNZ.com's referral to the BSA. A link to the text of the original complaint is provided at the bottom of the page. * 4 February 2005 Dear Mr Banks, Further to my letter dated 21st December I advise that TVNZ's Complaints Committee has completed its enquiry into your formal complaint about a telephone poll on Close Up At 7 shown on TV One at 7pm on 2nd December. The telephone poll invited viewers to provide a yes/no answer to the question “should Gay relationships be legally recognised?” You complained that the poll, which required a participant to make a telephone call to one of two numbers, for which he or she must pay, was unscientific and gave a result which was contrary to the “scientific” polls which had been conducted on this subject. As you requested, your complaint was considered in the context of standards 4 (guideline 4a) and 5 (guidelines 5a, 5b, 5d, and 5e): Standard 4 Balance In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest. 4a Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality. Standard 5 Accuracy News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times. 5a Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity. 5b Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers. 5d Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, should be clearly distinguishable. 5e Broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to ensure at all times that the information sources for news, current affairs and documentaries are reliable. Having viewed the programme the committee noted that telephone polls are a regular feature on Close Up as they were on Holmes for many years before this. It's a device used around the world, and can be seen in New Zealand in a daily telephone poll on Sky News (Australia and New Zealand) and on CNN, and TV3. In the newspaper world The New Zealand Herald conducts occasional telephone polls. The committee considered it important to note that at no time has TVNZ (or any of the other media outlets listed above) claimed that these polls are scientific. The terms on which the questions are asked are made clear. It is obvious that a participant has to make a decision that he or she will pay to make the call. Implicit in the conduct of the polls is that some people will make multiple calls (although their desire to do so may be curbed by the extra charge for each call). In addition, the poll will obviously only attract those who are watching the programme and know that the initiation has been extended. It seemed to the committee that you recognised the limitations of such polls; why then should the rest of the viewers not similarly reach that conclusion? Telephone polls are conducted to provide a small opportunity for viewers to interact with the programme and no claim is made about the outcome beyond providing the result – a straightforward account of the figures for and against the proposition being polled. The polls are presented as nothing more than a brief but interesting snapshot of the opinions of participating viewers at that point in time – and nothing more. A closing comment from Susan Wood on this occasion was clearly presented as an expression of opinion. The treatment was quite different, and recognisably so, from a news item analysing a scientific poll. The committee did not believe that politicians or various persuasions would be influenced in any conscience vote by a telephone poll on Close Up. That idea seemed preposterous and out of touch with political reality. Turning to standard 4 and to guideline 4a, the committee considered that the terms of the poll (for and against) were balanced, and that the result at the end of the programme also presented the outcome in a balanced way. There was nothing in the wording of the question which could be construed as influencing the way participating voters might vote. The committee also noted that standard 4 allows for balance to be achieved within the period of current interest. Whatever your view of this poll might be, the committee observed that over the period of the current Civil Union Debate, TVNZ's News and Current Affairs output has covered this controversial issue from many angles, and reflected many shades of opinion. As far as standard 5 and guideline 5a was concerned, the committee believed that the results of the poll were reported accurately. The terms of the poll had been set out (as they have many times in the past) at the time the presenter has extended the invitation to viewers to register their votes. In reference to guideline 5b, the committee found nowhere in the programme where it was stated or implied that the poll was an “accurate reflection of public feeling”. The poll was clearly not scientific because of the limitations obvious in the process. The result as presented to viewers was not misleading, but was an accurate account of the calls received. Turning to 5d, it was the view of the committee that Susan Wood was obviously expressing an opinion. The phrase “makes you wonder” clearly indicates a state of musing rather than a statement of fact. It would have been inappropriate to compare this poll with the others you describe – simply because that would give this unscientific poll a credibility which has never been claimed for it. Concerning 5e, the committee stress again that the poll is a device to provide viewers with an opportunity to interact with the programme. Any number of subjects have been treated this way over the years (and Sky News selects an issue of controversy every single day). The telephone polls are transparently unscientific but that does not diminish their interest or curiosity value. To describe the poll as “interactive sensationalism” is to the treat the poll altogether too seriously. The committee found no breath of either standard 4 or standard 5. According your complaint was not upheld. In accordance with section 7(3) of the Broadcasting Act you are hereby notified that it is your right, should you be dissatisfied with this decision, to refer the matter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, PO Box 9213, Wellington, as provided under section 8 of the Act, for the purpose of an investigation and review of the decision. A time limit of twenty working days is attached to the exercise of this right. Yours sincerely, David Edmunds Programme Standards Manager * Broadcasting Standards Authority PO Box 9213 Wellington 16/2/2005 Dear Sir/Madam, We wish to refer to the Broadcasting Standards Authority a formal complaint about an episode of “Close Up At 7”, broadcast on Thursday December 2 at 7pm on TV1. On December 17th 2004, we made a formal complaint to TVNZ saying we felt that broadcasting standards had been breached with this programme (correspondence enclosed). On February 4th 2005, TVNZ replied saying they disagreed that standards had been breached and that our complaint had not been upheld (reply enclosed). We identified five standards we felt had been breached. We do not feel that TVNZ has satisfactorily answered any of our points relating to each, despite agreeing with us on a central point of the complaint – that its 0900 phone polls are not scientific. We have outlined below where we feel TVNZ's responses have been inadequate: TVNZ say that at no point have they claimed that their phone polls are scientific, however this is meaningless as they have never pointed out to viewers that they aren't, or made clear the difference between these polls and the random scientific polls by Colmar Brunton that TVNZ regularly use for serious polling. The fact that other networks use phone polls is irrelevant – “everybody else is doing it” is not a justification for misleading viewers by omission. TVNZ's committee seem to think that because we as complainants recognise the limitations of phone polls, then it's a given that most people would also have done this. They have completely ignored all the supporting evidence we presented to show that precisely the opposite was true in the wake of their poll. We have since uncovered evidence to show that TVNZ's poll was even reported in international media as a factual representation of the New Zealand's public's feeling on civil unions. Rex Wockner, author of a weekly news brief column which is syndicated to gay and lesbian community newspapers and websites worldwide, concluded his report on New Zealand's civil unions debate in December by saying: “Polling showed that New Zealanders opposed recognizing gay relationships by a margin of three to one.” It's amusing for TVNZ to call the idea of the Close Up poll affecting politicians votes as “preposterous” when their own political commentator Lindsay Perigo, whom one would expect to be more in touch with “political reality” than a complaints committee at a television network, said the exact opposite on TVNZ's own news programme. In addition to Perigo, we provided evidence to show a significant cross-section of the public taking the poll seriously, including the Catholic Church, radio and print media, and numerous talkback radio callers and letter-writers to newspapers. TVNZ say Susan Wood's closing comment was an obvious expression of opinion. How are viewers expected to recognise this? Wood delivered the results to viewers, and launched straight into her “makes you wonder which polls the government is relying on to say that this Bill has support”. Not only that, but TVNZ then go on to say that “it would have been inappropriate to compare this poll with the others you describe” – yet this is precisely what Wood did. Her comment clearly implies that Close Up's poll result was decisive, and other polls which showed the opposite result to Close Up's were dubious in nature. The polls the government were relying on were scientific, random polls – one of which had been conducted on One News by Colmar Brunton only a few months prior, and another which screened on TV3 on the same night. It is interesting to compare Wood's comment on the poll with a report on a similarly unscientific poll taken by the BBC recently regarding the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. During BBC World's coverage of this story on February 11, the presenter made reference to a poll the BBC had conducted on their website asking if Charles and Camilla should marry. A self-selected poll on a website suffers from precisely the same limitations as TVNZ's 0900 phone polls. Directly following the announcement of the poll's result, the BBC presenter said: “Now that's not a scientific poll, of course, but it's an interesting curiosity”. The presenter then went on to discuss scientific polls on the same issue that have been conducted over the last five years. It is interesting that the BBC, one of the world's most respected broadcasters, considers it important to inform viewers about the difference between scientific and non-scientific polls even on a comparatively minor issue like a public figure's marriage plans, whereas TVNZ considers it unnecessary to do so on an issue it admits is “controversial”. TVNZ say that standard 4 allows for balance to be achieved “within the period of current interest”, a vague answer which fails to address our complaint about something very specific. Our complaint relates specifically to the Close Up poll and its question, “Should gay relationships be legally recognised?”. This is a question of a controversial nature, as TVNZ admits. In answering it, TVNZ told viewers that an overwhelming majority of people (not callers) were saying no. It went on to affirm this result on other news programmes, and in news items posted on its website (as illustrated in our complaint). At no point were viewers told that this conclusion was achieved through an unscientific method of polling and therefore was not an accurate reflection of public feeling. For TVNZ to claim that they never claimed the poll was accurate is shirking responsibility. It is obvious from the examples we have provided that a general cross-section of the public (including One News's political editor) were unaware of the difference between an 0900 phone poll and a random One News Colmar Brunton poll. TVNZ say the results of the poll were reported accurately, but this is also incorrect. To report the results of such a poll accurately, one would have to use the term “calls” to describe how the numbers in the poll were made up, as the poll is not random and makes no allowance for repeat calling. However, as illustrated, “people” was the only term used – on “Close Up” by Wood and in TVNZ's other programmes and web reports – to describe the data. TVNZ think we have treated the poll too seriously. It seems that they are the only ones who are not taking it seriously at all. We feel we've provided a wealth of evidence to show that on this occasion, the poll result was taken and used as a serious one. TVNZ defend the 0900 polls as “a devide to provide viewers with an opportunity to interact with the programme”. There are plenty of ways to do this without misleading those same viewers – talkback and interactive texting are two examples of this, as shown on Paul Holmes' Prime TV show. That aside, should viewer interactivity take precedence over balanced and accurate reporting of controversial issues? TVNZ have acknowledged that 0900 phone polls are “transparently unscientific”, in effect “straw polls”. This difference needs to be made clear to viewers, otherwise it is indeed nothing more than interactive sensationalism. We look forward to your response. Best regards, Christopher Dempsey (GayWatch) Christopher Banks (GayNZ.com) Chris Banks - 20th February 2005    
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