A complaint against TV One by Right to Life has been upheld by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
Right to Life complained about an alleged lack of balance in a story on Seven Sharp in February about a terminally ill woman who had been a voluntary euthanasia campaigner for many years.
The BSA in its November 10 decision said the balance standard in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
Ken Orr, Right to Life spokesman, said Right to Life believes the decision is a wakeup call for the media. “Euthanasia is a life and death issue, it is about doctors killing their patients or assisting in their suicide. Right to Life considers that this decision is a victory for the community. The community has a right to receive factual information on euthanasia that will enable them to be fully informed,” he said.
The authority said in its decision that Right to Life complained the item lacked balance because it did not have input from the medical profession or disability sector, who, it said, oppose euthanasia.
“Right to Life argued that to achieve genuine balance, alternative views should be presented within the same programme if possible, and the broadcaster should not be able to rely on balance found in past programmes.”
TVNZ, on the other hand, argued that the Seven Sharp item approached the issue of voluntary euthanasia from the perspective of the pro-euthanasia campaigner featured, focusing on her individual situation and personal opinions. “It argued that this was permitted as long as it was evident to viewers that the item was approaching the issue from a particular perspective.”
TVNZ said it considered other perspectives were acknowledged within the broadcast through the reporter’s discussion of the history of voluntary euthanasia in New Zealand and how the issue is being handled around the world. TVNZ also referred to broadcasts in 2012 and 2013 that presented the anti-euthanasia viewpoint.
The authority said it found that significant views on voluntary euthanasia were not presented within the programme. It relied on an expectation that balance on the issue would be presented over time, the BSA said.
“However, we have not seen this occurring and in our experience it is not straightforward to seek out the alternative view in TVNZ programmes or in other media.”
TVNZ pointed to items broadcast in 2012 and 2013 as presenting the anti-euthanasia position and therefore achieving balance. But the BSA rejected that.
“We do not think it is reasonable to expect viewers to be cognisant of views given in items several years ago, and we are not aware of coverage in other media around the same time as this Seven Sharp item that presented significant perspectives on voluntary euthanasia.”
The authority upheld the complaint, “that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of Seven Sharp on 16 February 2015 breached Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Code of Broadcasting Practice”.