TVNZ faces formal complaint over controversial series

By Derek Cheng

Television New Zealand's decision to air the controversial mini-series The Pathway to 9/11 has been called "appalling" and will bring a formal complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Auckland University law lecturers Kevin Heller and John Ip have both written to the state broadcaster complaining about the programme, which they say is littered with inaccuracies, but presented as fact-based.

They have not heard back from TVNZ and plan to lay official complaints under the free-to-air TV code, which has standards of accuracy and balance for factual programmes.

The series, which started on TV One last night and concludes tonight, is touted as being based largely on the official 9/11 Commission Report. It opens with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York and traces events leading up to the 9/11 attacks - five years ago today - that killed nearly 3000 people.

An uproar by Democrats in the United States about the series led to American network ABC making a number of 11th-hour changes.

TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards said ABC sent a disclaimer with the series that would run with the broadcast, saying it was a dramatisation, not a documentary.

But Mr Heller said that wasn't enough, and it should not be aired in its current form.

"It's become very clear that many of the critical scenes don't correspond with the 9/11 report. Even a dramatisation implies you're taking the content of the report and recreating it with actors.

"If they had said it was a fictional retelling, that would be one thing, but what crosses the line into a violation of broadcasting standards is cloaking itself in the objectivity of the 9/11 report, when the most critical scenes are literally lifted from nowhere.

"And on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, to be telling a story that is that factually inaccurate, I just find that appalling."

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger have both complained about scenes that they say never happened, in which their characters are saying things they never said.

The series' lead actor, Harvey Keitel, has also stepped in to say that "not all the facts were correct".

Ms Richards said programmes that were already purchased could be pulled from air if deemed inappropriate, but "I don't know if this falls into that category, at all".

She said TVNZ was aware of the furore in the US, but TVNZ had had no discussions on whether to pull the series.

"We're not making arbitrary judgments about [the series]. People may not agree with the politics of various documentaries we run, but that doesn't mean we don't run them."


* The Pathway to 9/11, TV One, 7.30

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