MAF Complaint Against Frontline Programme Upheld in High Court

14 February 1997

The High Court in Wellington has upheld a ruling by the Broadcasting Standards Authority against Television New Zealand in relation to a Frontline programme which aired in September 1994.

In April 1995, the Authority upheld a number of aspects of a formal complaint from the Ministry of Agriculture against the programme ‘Dicing with Disease', including the complaint that the programme overall was unbalanced, and ordered TVNZ to broadcast a correction.

The programme was about the cattle disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as ‘mad cow disease', and New Zealand's policy at the time of allowing genetic material from British cattle to be imported into this country. The programme questioned whether this policy put New Zealand cattle at risk from the disease.

The Authority ruled that the programme breached Standards G.1 (‘To be truthful and accurate on points of fact'), G.6 (‘To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature') and G.20 (‘No set formula can be advanced for the allocation of time to interested parties on controversial public issues. Broadcasters should aim to present all significant sides in as fair a way as possible, and this can be done only by judging every case on its merits').

However, TVNZ decided to appeal the ruling and took the matter to the High Court. The case was heard over two days in October 1996, and in a ruling released yesterday, the appeal was dismissed by Justice McGechan. Because of the amount of time which has lapsed since the programme screened, MAF agreed that the order to broadcast a correction be quashed. Justice McGechan said in his written judgment, "I share MAF's concern that the delay factor in itself has made the orders difficult to sustain, and a concern lest similar situations arise in the future."

His Honour reserved in matter of costs. MAF will be seeking costs from TVNZ.

Media inquiries to:
Debbie Gee, Manager Corporate Communications



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