TCN Channel Nine Pty Ltd (Channel Nine) breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice (the code) by broadcasting a news item that was inaccurate and was not presented fairly and impartially.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority investigated a prime time news item entitled ‘Protecting Perks’, broadcast in Sydney by Nine News Sunday on 16 July 2016. The news item contained allegations that former Ku-ring-gai Mayor, Councillor Cheryl Szatow, and the Ku-ring-gai Council had engaged in wasteful spending, including funding a legal challenge to the NSW Government’s plans to amalgamate Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby councils.
The ACMA investigated the broadcast following a complaint that the news item contained a number of inaccuracies and was biased and unfair.
‘The ACMA found that Channel Nine breached the fairness and impartiality requirements of the news provisions of the code by using non-neutral language, unfair juxtapositions of facts, comical graphics and a tone more commonly found in current affairs programming, to which different standards apply,’ said acting ACMA Chairman, Richard Bean.
‘The code requires that commercial television news programs present factual material accurately, and do so in a fair and impartial way,’ he added.
The ACMA also found that the news item contained one factual assertion that was inaccurate—that the Mayor had spent $900 a week on flower deliveries for her office. The licensee has advised the ACMA that this figure in fact referred to the total cost of 30 separate deliveries that had occurred over a nine month period.
However, four other allegations of inaccuracy were investigated by the ACMA, in respect of which no code breaches were found.
In response to the ACMA’s findings, the licensee has undertaken to:
- inform relevant staff involved in the production and broadcast of the news item of the ACMA’s reasoning and findings
- use the matter as an example in future training of all relevant staff.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Emma Rossi, Media Manager, (02) 9334 7719 and 0434 652 063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media release 4/2017 - 7 March
Relevant Code provision - accuracy
Clause 3.3.1 of the code provides that, in broadcasting news and current affairs programs, a licensee ‘must present factual material accurately and ensure viewpoints included in the Program are not misrepresented.’
Relevant Code provision – impartiality
Clause 3.4.1 of the code provides that, in broadcasting a news program, a licensee must present news fairly and impartially.
(No such fairness and impartiality obligation applies to current affairs programs. Clause 3.4.3 of the Code explicitly states that current affairs programs are not required be impartial and may take a particular stance on issues.)
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.
The ACMA may investigate in the public interest:
- following a complaint about compliance with the BSA or licence conditions;
- following a complaint about compliance with code obligations, where the complainant has complained to the licensee and is dissatisfied with its response; or
- on its ‘own motion’ into compliance with the BSA, licence conditions or code obligations.
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 a code of practice, the ACMA may:
- agree to accept measures offered by the broadcaster to improve compliance (such as educating staff or changing procedures)
- agree to accept an enforceable undertaking offered by the broadcaster for the purpose of securing future compliance with the rules
- 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).