Channel Nine program breaches accuracy and privacy | ACMA

Channel Nine program breaches accuracy and privacy

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has found that Queensland Television Ltd (Channel Nine) breached factual accuracy and privacy clauses of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2010 (the Code) in two segments of its A Current Affair program broadcast on 2 and 18 October 2013.

Broadcast 1, ‘Doctor’s Certificate Scandal’, reported on how a patient obtained medical certificates from doctors when he was not sick. The segment included footage of five doctor consultations with the bogus patient, obtained using a hidden camera.

Broadcast 2, ‘Doctor Revolt’, a sequel to Broadcast 1, presented extended footage of two of the consultations in response to complaints from two of the doctors who featured in Broadcast 1.

The ACMA found that while the extended footage in broadcast 2 established that broadcast 1 was inaccurate, both segments contained inaccurate factual assertions that the two doctors had issued medical certificates for non-bona fide reasons, when in fact both doctors had investigated what they believed to be real medical symptoms and explored further treatment for these symptoms before issuing the certificates. 

The ACMA also found that one of the doctors was identifiable in the broadcast, and that the use of the recorded footage of the consultation invaded his privacy.

‘There was no public interest justification in the program’s surreptitious filming of medical consultations, its inaccurate descriptions of those consultations and its editing of the footage to achieve a false effect,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman.

In the circumstances, the ACMA recommended to Channel Nine that it make an on-air statement of the ACMA’s findings, which Channel Nine declined to do. Channel Nine did agree to:

>      remove the relevant segments from the program website,

>      include on the program website a summary of, and a link to, the ACMA’s final report

>      include the matter in training materials for staff.

The investigation also resulted in a non-breach finding with respect to the licensee’s handling of the code complaint. The investigation report is available here.

For more information, please see the backgrounder below or to arrange an interview, please contact: Emma Rossi, Media Manager, (02) 9334 7719 and 0434 652 063 or media@acma.gov.au.

Media release 61/2014 - 24 September

Backgrounder

Clause 4.3.1 - Accuracy

The ACMA found that the segments breached the Code’s requirements for factual accuracy because:

>      Statements in its broadcast of 2 October 2013 inaccurately conveyed that:

  •  -the patient had only said that he was tired and
  •  -the doctors had issued medical certificates without medical reasons.

>      Statements in its broadcast of 18 October 2013 inaccurately conveyed that:

  • -a doctor had not considered male suicide as a factor in dealing with the patient
  • -the doctors had issued medical certificates without medical reasons.

 Clause 4.3.5 - Privacy

The ACMA also found that the broadcast of 2 October 2013 breached the privacy provisions of the Code. It was found that the licensee used material, being a surreptitious recording of a consultation that invaded the privacy of one of the doctors, and there was no identifiable public interest in the broadcast of the material. 

 Clause 7.9 - Complaint handling

 The investigation found that the licensee did not breach clause 7.9 if the Code. The complainant alleged that he was not told about the correct complaints process when he telephoned the station to express his concerns about the broadcast of 2 October 2013. While there was no dispute that the complainant had phoned, there was a dispute as to whether the complainant expressed that he wished to make a formal complaint. The licensee provided a file note of the phone call which tended to support its version of events.  

The regulatory framework-broadcasting content regulation

Under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA), Australian radio and television licensees have primary responsibility for ensuring that the material they broadcast reflects community standards. Many aspects of program content are governed by codes of practice developed by industry groups representing the various Australian broadcasting sectors. The ACMA registers codes (other than those of the national broadcasters, the ABC and SBS) once it is satisfied that broadcasters have undertaken public consultation and the codes contain appropriate community safeguards.

ACMA investigations

The ACMA:

>      must investigate complaints about compliance with licence conditions (sections 147 and 149 of the BSA)

>      must investigate complaints about compliance with code obligations, where the complainant has complained to the licensee and is dissatisfied with its response (sections 148 and 149 of the BSA)

>      must investigate such matters as it is directed so to do by the Minister for Communications(section 171 of the BSA)

>      may, as matter of discretion, commence an 'own motion' investigation into such matters as it sees fit (section 170 of the BSA).

Additional information about and copies of the ACMA’s published broadcasting investigations reports are available here.

Responding to breaches

Where there has been a breach of code or practice, the ACMA may:

>      agree to accept measures offered by the broadcaster to improve compliance (these measures can include educating staff or changing procedures to improve compliance with the rule(s)

>      agree to accept an enforceable undertaking offered by the broadcaster for the purpose of securing future compliance with the rule(s)

>      impose an additional licence condition.

The ACMA cannot ‘fine’ or ‘prosecute’ a broadcaster for breaching a code, or direct it to do any particular thing (such as broadcast a report of the ACMA’s findings).

Making communications and media work in Australia’s public interest acma.gov.au

Last updated: 24 September 2014