BSA Decision Available: TVNZ Pacific Correspondent Dreaver Vs Samoa

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=BARBARA+DREAVER&iid=3086916″ src=”8/4/8/e/a0.jpg?adImageId=11056007&imageId=3086916″ width=”380″ height=”257″ /]

Archive Photo: TVNZ Pacific Correspondent Barbara Dreaver, next to ONE News Editor Paul Patrick, is interviewed after arriving at Auckland International Airport after being detained in Fiji on December 16, 2008 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Regardless of how TVNZ – a publicly funded broadcaster – spin this story, the Broadcasting Standards  Authority, who are not reknown for ruling against the broadcaster, issued some clear findings. TVNZ and its Pacific Correspondent made some big mistakes on this story. Basic errors of journalism practice. That is clear cut from this decision and its findings.  The story about guns and drug smuggling in Samoa was found to be unbalanced, inaccurate on one of two counts and unfair on one of two counts.

To download a PDF file of the BSA decision, click on Download link on the Scribd screen below. It will automatically open into a PDF document.  You can also view in wide screen by clicking FullScreen.

View this document on Scribd

The Government of Samoa referred the complaint to the BSA after TVNZ failed to respond to them directly within the legally required timeframe. They then exercised their right to lay a complaint with the BSA in the absence of the delayed response from TVNZ.

Both sides were given more than a fair hearing. The document shows that the BSA gave all sides ample opportunity, re-asking questions to verify evidence on both sides, and seeking further proof. They literally bent over backwards to make the best judgement in their minds. The BSA do not regularly do that with every complaint like this, which is a shame, instead accepting the word of the broadcaster.  In this case, they required proof on what Dreaver alleged in the highly charged and controversial story. Interestingly, TVNZ defended itself against accusations of lack of balance by saying it did not believe the story was controversial.

TVNZ and the Pacific Correspondent were given opportunities to present evidence to support the thrust of their story. What they did present only revealed how unbalanced and undermining Dreaver’s reporting had been in this case. End of story. More to come no doubt.

New Zealand’s Broadcasting Standards Authority 30-page decision, which is inserted as a link and in full in this post, confirms that TVNZ Story aired in April last year by Pacific Correspondent Barbara Dreaver on guns and drugs smugglings being awash in Samoa was unbalanced, inaccurate on one of  two aspects, and unfair on one of two aspects.

The Authority did not find that the story breached the standard of law and order.We summarised the arguments and findings for the standard of balance.


There’s a fair number of issues to dissect. Frankly TVNZ’s defence arguments raise more questions about integrity. Two key ethical issues, in particular, arise after reading the 30-page decision. First one is, Dreaver and her camera crew took alcohol over to one of her key contacts after the day’s filming. TVNZ defended her decision to gift alcohol to the subjects despite things like editorial independence being a factor under consideration:

At around 5pm the same day, the reporter and her crew took some alcohol to the tattoo studio man’s house as a thank you for his time. When they arrived a group of other men was there already drinking, most of them deportees. The interviews had all been completed at this stage, although the cameraman took some “cutaway” shots of the group , “unidentifiable shots for general vision only, as these men were not part of the story”. None of the alcohol purchased by the reporter was consumed at this time. The reporter and her colleagues left, and returned to New Zealand early the next day.

We note that they do not say they did not consume any alcohol at all with the group. It only says that the alcohol they brought with them was not consumed. It doesn’t say how long Dreaver and her crew were there for, and what they might have eaten, drunk and whatnot with the group of men including at least one of her key contacts.  If you’re Samoan, and in Samoa, those  seemingly insignificant details become important on matters like this because they giveaway details about the relationship. In any case, highly questionable practice for a reporter in Samoa reportedly doing a supposedly dangerous story on guns and crime in  a country that supposedly awash with it.  Adding another drug to the mix  is not the smartest move.

Also, given the age of some of the young men interviewed for the story, were they present at this gathering? And what was Dreaver thinking when she gifted alcohol? No sense of social responsibility shown whatsoever. It also raises questions as to whether this is standard practice for Dreaver with other stories and contacts in the Pacific region.

Considering editorial independence and integrity (guideline 5c), TVNZ considered that, based on the facts, there were no grounds upon which to question the reporter’s integrity. It reiterated that the reporter had provided alcohol to the interviewees only after the interviews were completed, it was unsolicited, and the alcohol was not consumed while the reporter was present. It maintained it was not unusual to offer a gift where an interviewee had given up an entire day’s work to assist with interviews and filming requests.

Another ethical issue raised by Dreaver’s approach below:

Before I started the interview I asked them if they were ok being identified or did they want to cover their faces. I gave them this option at the beginning because I felt that if they told us what they do on camera they would obviously be targeted by Police.

Let’s say Dreaver did this story in New Zealand, with local young people, who are reportedly part of a gun or drug-running outfit, how would NZ Police and other authorities react to the above statement? It raises serious ethical concerns. We can think of New Zealand examples where the public and authorities have been alarmed by similar tactics, where journalists have been criticised for protecting alleged criminals in exchange for an interview. In this case, we now know that the boys had no criminal convictions, despite their fanciful imaginations.

The complaints related to ONE News and Tagata Pasifika, the weekly Pacific-style magazine show which aired Dreaver’s story unedited.

Authority’s Findings

  1. Complaint of breach of standard of BALANCE UPHELD
    BSA noted: items discussed controversial issue of public importance – only presented one perspective, that the situation in Samoa was extremely serious – viewers needed information about the gravity of the problem in a wider context and from other perspectives.
  2. Complaint of breach of standard of ACCURACYONE ASPECT UPHELD
    BSA noted: reporter accurately reported what she was told by the “Makoi boys” but under the circumstances should have questioned their reliability and made efforts to corroborate what they said – complainant’s other concerns appropriately dealt with under balance.
  3. Complaint of Breach of Standard of Fairness

    BSA noted:“Makoi boys” did not understand the nature of the programme or their proposed contribution.

    BSA noted: programme did not distort events or views expressed – no information or pictures gathered by deception.
  4. Complaint of Breach of Standard of Law and Order NOT UPHELD
    BSA noted: programmes conveyed that guns and drugs trade was undesirable and a problem – did not encourage or condone criminal activity

TVNZ ordered to broadcast statement,  payment of costs to the complainant $5,000 and  payment of costs to the Crown $2,000.

For now, we’ll do one summary of one of the findings, standard of balance which was upheld.


COMPLAINT The Attorney General of Samoa, on behalf of the Government of Samoa, lodged a formal complaint with Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programmes breached broadcasting standards because viewers had been left with a false impression of Samoan culture and Samoa today.

Standard 4 (balance)
TVNZ contended that the story , and the comments made by the boys in Dreaver’s story were not controversial and therefore not subject to the standard of balance.

Guideline 5e states that broadcasters must take reasonable steps to ensure that information sources are reliable. TVNZ noted that no questions were raised at the time regarding the reliability of the men, the “Makoi boys”, referred to in the
complaint and considered there was no reason to question their credibility. The accounts that were challenged were the personal accounts of the men’s own experiences and involvement. TVNZ stated that they were “consistent and confident
in their responses”.On this occasion, the two programmes discussed whether there was a serious problem with guns and drugs in Samoa to which authorities and police were not responding appropriately and/or “turning a blind eye”. In the Authority’s view, this constituted a discussion of a controversial issue.

Given that New Zealand is home to a significant Pacific Island community, and that New Zealand has strong historical ties with Samoa, the Authority disagrees with TVNZ that the issue was not of public importance in New Zealand. The fact that One News is broadcast every night on two television channels in Samoa demonstrates a close link between the countries. The Authority also notes that the items specifically referred to methamphetamine being smuggled to Samoa from New Zealand. The Authority therefore finds that the items subject to complaint discussed a controversial issue of public importance to which the balance standard applied.

One News
The Authority notes that the One News item was introduced as follows:

Presenter: We’ve two exclusives dominating tonight’s One News: the lethal concoction right on our doorstep. A Pacific paradise awash with guns and drugs which we’re helping supply…

Presenter:We begin with how criminal gangs are building up a terrifying arsenal. A One News investigation has uncovered the explosive mix in the Pacific Island of Samoa.

Presenter 2: We found there’s a lucrative trade in drugs from New Zealand and that in turn is helping pay for the smuggling of some heavy weaponry from the United States and China.

In the Authority’s view, the cumulative effect of such a dramatic introduction coupled with the information presented in the item (see paragraphs  to was to create the impression for viewers that not only was the situation in Samoa extremely serious, but Government officials were complicit in the guns and drugs trade. However, viewers were not given any information about how serious the situation was in a wider context, for example an international context, and were not offered any perspective from community leaders, officials or the Government (some of whom were allegedly involved).

…comments from the Commissioner were reported in the One News item, they were immediately undermined by the reporter:
Well, the Police Commissioner wouldn’t appear on camera but he did tell One News that most of the guns in Samoa are used just for sport. We know that’s not the case. And he also said there’s not really a hard drugs problem in Samoa. We also know that’s not the case. And perhaps one of the reasons the Police Commissioner did not want to appear on camera is that he has been accused of gun smuggling himself. A gun commission found he did have a case to answer for but he was not investigated because the Samoan cabinet voted that he shouldn’t be.

The Authority asked the reporter to outline the information on which she based her unequivocal statements above, and she provided the references to news articles outlined in paragraph [107] above. While the reporter’s information does show that there have been isolated incidents involving drugs and guns in Samoa, spread over a number of yea rs, it does not support the impression given in the item that Samoa was “awash” with guns and drugs. The Authority agrees with the complainant that, at best, the information shows the presence of hard drugs and guns in Samoa – neither of which is disputed by the Samoa n authorities. However, in its view, the reporter’s evidence certainly does not support her unequivocal statements, the entire thrust of the item, or the suggestion that the situation was so clear-cut that no alternative perspective needed to be given in the item.

The broadcaster did not make any efforts to gauge for viewers the extent of the problem, by including comments from community leaders, including doctors, lawyers, local media or officials working either in NGOs or government. In this respect, the Authority finds that the broadcaster failed to make reasonable efforts to present significant points of view on the controversial issue under discussion.

Accordingly, the Authority finds that the One News item was unbalanced.


TVNZ considered that for the purposes of guideline 2b to Standard 2, the news and current affairs programmes complained about were “factual programmes”, though it reserved the right to argue the contrary if the complaint was referred to the

There’s more. But we’ve given enough for some serious reading and analysis. Please click on the link to read the full 30 page decision.


One Comment on “BSA Decision Available: TVNZ Pacific Correspondent Dreaver Vs Samoa”

  1. […] BSA Decision Available: TVNZ Pacific Correspondent Dreaver Vs Samoa « […]

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