BSA Media Release: Complaints About Samoan Guns & Drugs Story Upheld

Media Release

For immediate release

9 March 2010

Complaints about Samoan guns and drugs story upheld

The Broadcasting Standards Authority has found a One News item that claimed Samoa was “awash with drugs and guns” breached three broadcasting standards.

The Authority has upheld a complaint from Samoa’s Attorney General that the item, which screened on One News on 6 April 2009 and was repeated in an extended form on Tagata Pasifika on 9 April 2009, breached standards relating to balance, fairness and accuracy.

One News the introduced the item as an exclusive about a Pacific paradise “awash with guns and drugs” where criminal gangs were building up a “terrifying arsenal”.

The item quoted, among others, a group called the “Makoi boys” who were allegedly a gang who smoked marijuana and sold methamphetamine. It also said that smuggling weapons from the United States was “becoming big business”.

In assessing balance, the Authority found that the cumulative effect of a dramatic introduction to the One News item and the information presented created the impression that the situation in Samoa was extremely serious, and that officials were complicit in the guns and drugs trade.

However, the item failed to provide context about the seriousness of the situation. The broadcaster also failed to make reasonable efforts to present significant points of view on a controversial issue. No perspectives were offered from people such as community leaders, doctors, lawyers, local media, government or NGO officials, the Authority found.

The reporter provided references to media coverage of hard drug use in Samoa and a number of shootings in the country. While accepting that these showed the presence of guns and drugs in Samoa, the Authority said that, “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.”

While the overall effect of the Tagata Pasifika story was less dramatic than on One News, it still lacked sufficient context or alternative viewpoints, the decision said.

The complainant was also concerned that the item was not accurate because allegations were made on the basis of the interview with the “Makoi boys” whose reliability was suspect.

The Authority accepted that the reporter had acted in good faith and genuinely believed the “Makoi boys” were being truthful. However, it said that there was enough evidence to suggest the men were neither credible nor reliable.

The reporter believed that the “Makoi boys” were smoking marijuana and were “stoned” and “should have viewed their responses with a greater degree of caution”, the decision said. Also the transcript and footage of the interview showed that the “Makoi boys” were “joking around and acting up for the camera”.

While the Authority accepted that any misrepresentation in the item was not deliberate, it believed affidavit statements that the “Makoi boys” were not a “gang” whose business was selling marijuana and P. “In this sense, the audience was misled by what was presented in the item.”

The Authority also found that the “Makoi boys” were treated unfairly, because it was not adequately explained to them that the interview would appear on prime time news in New Zealand and Samoa, where One News is also broadcast.

“In the Authority’s view, given the close nature of Samoan society and size of the country, it is highly improbable that the “Makoi boys” would have agreed to be interviewed undisguised or would have claimed to be selling drugs if they had understood the nature of the programme,” the decision said.

Other complaints, including that the reporter obtained information by deception and that the views of those who took part were distorted, were not upheld.

The Authority ordered Television New Zealand to broadcast a summary of the decision on One News and Tagata Pasifika within a month of the decision and to pay complainant costs of $5,000 and Crown costs of $2,000.

Ends

Copies of the full decision are available on www.bsa.govt.nz



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