The Australian Communications and Media Authority has found that Channel Seven Brisbane Pty Limited (Channel Seven) breached the accuracy provisions of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2015 (the Code) during a report aired on Seven News on 20 April this year.
The ACMA investigated a complaint about the report which concerned a re-sentencing hearing in the District Court in Brisbane. The report included remarks made by the judge that were critical of the defendant’s (current) lawyers along with images of two people walking with the defendant in the vicinity of a court building. The defendant’s lawyers were not named.
In fact, the people shown walking with the defendant were not his current lawyers. They had been his lawyers in 2013 when the images used in the report were recorded but at the time of the 2016 broadcast they were no longer acting in that capacity.
The ACMA considered that the identity of the lawyers, conveyed through the use of recorded images, was a material fact in the context of the news report. Accordingly, because images of the wrong individuals were broadcast, factual material was not broadcast accurately as required by clause 3.3.1 of the Code.
Channel Seven has acknowledged that the images were not of the defendant’s current legal representatives although it was unaware of this at the time the report went to air.
The ACMA also found that Channel Seven breached its obligations at clause 3.3.3 of the Code as it failed to correct or clarify a material error of fact when the error was brought to its attention by the complainant following the broadcast.
Channel Seven Brisbane Pty Limited has undertaken to bring the ACMA’s decision to the attention of its news and current affairs staff, and to include reference to the decision in future training courses concerning the Code.
For more information please see the Backgrounder below or contact: Blake Murdoch, on (02) 9334 7817, 0434 567 391 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media release 32/2016 - 27 September
Relevant code provision - accuracy
Clause 3.3.1 of the Code provides that, in broadcasting news and current affairs programs, ‘licensees must present factual material accurately and ensure viewpoints included in the Program are not misrepresented.’
Clause 3.3.3 of the Code provides that ‘licensees must make reasonable efforts to correct or clarify significant and material errors of fact that are readily apparent or have been demonstrated to the Licensee’s reasonable satisfaction in a timely manner.’
Clause 3.1.2 of the Code provides that compliance with Section 3 ‘must be assessed taking into account all of the circumstances at the time of preparing and broadcasting the material, including: the facts known, or readily ascertainable, at that time’.
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 (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).