TVNZ fined over Samoan gangs story

A One News item that claimed Samoa was "awash with drugs and guns" breached broadcast standards on balance, fairness, and accuracy, the Broadcasting Standards Authority has ruled.

The authority has upheld a complaint from Samoa's Attorney-General about the item, which screened on April 6 last year and was repeated in an extended form on Tagata Pasifika on April 9.

One News 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 TVNZ failed to make reasonable efforts to present significant points of view on a controversial issue. No perspectives were offered from community leaders, doctors, lawyers, local media, government or NGO officials.

Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver referred to media coverage of hard drug use and a number of shootings in Samoa.

While the authority accepted that these showed the presence of guns and drugs in Samoa, it said her evidence "certainly does not support her unequivocal statements".

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 authority said.

In terms of accuracy, the authority accepted that Dreaver 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.

Dreaver believed that the "Makoi boys" were "stoned" and "should have viewed their responses with a greater degree of caution", the authority said.

The panel considering the complaint found that it was not adequately explained to the "Makoi boys" 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 TVNZ 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 $5000 and Crown costs of $2000.

- NZPA

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