Today Tonight report on Christian group breached TV code of practice rules ACMA

seven today tonightThe media watchdog has ruled Channel Seven Sydney breached factual accuracy clauses of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice in a story on Today Tonight which portrayed a Christian organisation as having prayed over a dying woman rather than getting medical help.

An investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that in reporting on the death of a female member of a the ‘Bruderhof’ organisation after suffering a stroke, the community and the woman’s son were portrayed by Today Tonight to have treated her with prayer and hymn singing as a substitute for medical care.

The segment proceeded despite a Medical Tribunal inquiry reporting, shortly before the story went to air, that the dying woman was given sympathetic and competent medical treatment in the form of palliative care, and the doctor’s decision was motivated by his belief that his mother would have elected not to receive aggressive medical treatment.

Seven has said it is “disappointed” in the ruling.

The ACMA also found that the licensee breached the factual accuracy clause relating to the promotion of news or current affairs by claiming, in a promo for the program, that the Bruderhof ‘prayed…instead of seeking medical help.’

 “In a complex investigation involving an 11-minute segment and two promos, the ACMA also found various non breaches,” the ACMA concluded.

Seven has said it is “disappointed with a number of the ACMA findings in this case”,  arguing that it was “clearly stated” in the report on Today Tonight that the woman received morphine.

“While we respect the right of the regulator to form a view on the overall impression conveyed by the story, we took a different view.  At the end of the day a woman died and she did not receive proper medical care.  We will continue to broadcast hard hitting investigative stories in areas like public health that are of significant public interest,” it said in a statement.

“We note that as stated in the ACMA release the Medical Tribunal found that Dr Maendel’s treatment of his mother amounted to unsatisfactory professional conduct.  Further, Dr Maendel narrowly escaped a finding of professional misconduct, with two out of the four tribunal members prepared to find his conduct failed to meet acceptable standards to such an extent to warrant the more serious finding.

“The impugned conduct as found by the Tribunal included multiple lapses in judgment and failures falling short of the standard of care expected of a medical practitioner, including:

  • Continuing to treat his own mother
  • failing to consult with specialists
  • failing to transfer Mrs Maendel to hospital
  • failing to request independent tests such as a CT scan
  • failing to instruct nursing staff regularly to assess Mrs Maendel’s condition and vital signs
  • deciding only to provide palliative care when he should have pursued more proactive treatment options (including hospital transfer), which may have saved Mrs Maendel’s life.”

Despite being disappointed with the ruling, Channel Seven has agreed to remove the segment from internet sites under its immediate control and to provide a link to the decision on the ACMA website for three months and to include the decision in its training materials and courses.

Miranda Ward


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