ACMA has just released a finding determining that that the Nine Network’s A Current Affair breached the code by allowing a segment to be broadcast whereby viewers might be hypnotised.

That finding sounds pretty comical, but for the fact that ACMA is starting its new inquiry into a renewal of the voluntary Code of Practice, and used the finding to beat the TV industry and Nine around the head once again for inadequate handling of viewer complaints.

A new draft code of practice and other material can be found here.

ACMA has also found against Ten’s news for two separate incidents.

ACMA found that TEN licensees breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2004 during two separate broadcasts of TEN News at Five ; on 3 May 2008 and 25 June 2008:

“With respect to the incident in May 2008, an ACMA investigation found TEN failed to exercise the requisite sensitivity under clause 4.3.6 of the code in its reporting of the boat explosion in Port Melbourne where two people died and others were seriously injured, by broadcasting prolonged footage of a man who had lost his parents in the explosion.

“This investigation also examined whether the broadcast amounted to an invasion of privacy. No finding was recorded due to limited precedent in this context.

“However, the ACMA has announced its intention to review its current ACMA Privacy Guidelines for Broadcasters as this case has highlighted the potential for more comprehensive guidance to industry and the public. The ACMA has also taken the opportunity to indicate its thinking on the privacy provision of the code for future reference and application by industry.”

ACMA said the June broadcast “reported on a fatal house fire. The ACMA found that TEN failed to comply with clause 4.3.8 of the code and take ‘reasonable steps’ to ensure that an accident victim’s family had been notified prior to broadcasting the victim’s identity.

“The ACMA also found that the licensee breached the complaints-handling provisions of the code by failing to advise the complainant of the code’s complaints-handling procedures during a telephone call to the station.

“These were particularly serious breaches,” ACMA said. “ACMA does not intend to take further action at this stage”.

“But all television licensees are on notice about the ACMA’s “thinking” around the concept of privacy, which will be expanded upon in its revised Privacy Guidelines for Broadcasters.”

The ACMA findings against Ten are serious because they involve questions of privacy and the Network’s handling of complaints.

Ten has followed ACMA’s suggestions to improve its handling of complaints and these privacy questions, but the wider issue will be examined by the regulator.

It has enormous implications for TV news and Current Affairs programs, their reporting and especially filming of people who may not want to be filmed, or know they are being recorded.

It could change the nature of TV news and Current Affairs dramatically (and could spread to the internet where ACMA is the content regulator), especially the news websites of the major media groups which at times carry salacious video content not available to newspaper readers, or video material of people who may not know they are being filmed.

But the Nine finding is amazing:

“TCN Channel Nine Pty Ltd (the licensee) breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2004 (the code) by broadcasting a program that was likely, in all the circumstances, to be designed to induce a hypnotic state in viewers.”

ACMA said it received a complaint in October last year about a A Current Affair segment entitled ‘Think Slim’, broadcast by the Nine Network on September 8 of the same year.

“Throughout the segment references are made by the program’s host, the reporter and the hypnotherapist himself, to the fact that the segment would feature the hypnotherapist demonstrating a hypnotic process designed to assist with weight loss. The segment culminates in a brief hypnotherapy session that lasts for approximately one minute.

“The ACMA found that the licensee breached clause 1.8.3 of the code in that the remarks made throughout the segment, in addition to the actual short hypnotherapy session that concluded the segment, clearly indicate that the segment was intended to induce a hypnotic state in viewers and help them lose weight.

“The ACMA also found that the licensee breached clause 7.10 of the code by failing to provide a substantive written response to the complainant within the timeframe required by the code.

If it wasn’t clear to the commercial TV industry that News and Current Affairs content and the way the networks handle complaints about them will be the big issue for ACMA’s inquiry into the renewal of current self regulatory Code Of Practice, then these decisions should settle any doubts.

The Commercial TV Networks have been placed on notice, as has SBS and Foxtel and the ABC (which has its own internal complaints process) that they have to improve in this area.

Peter Fray

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