Seven fails in legal bid to stop media watchdog from revealing breaches in three broadcasts

sevenSeven has failed in a legal bid to block the media watchdog from finding the network breached TV’s code of practice in three separate cases.

Seven went to court in an attempt to stop the Australian Communications and Media Authority from publishing its rulings on two Sunday Night stories and one from Today Tonight.

In one case, Seven’s Sunday Night accused the Australian owners of a ship of “cowardice” and “murder” for failing to attempt a rescue of people stuck on a mobile oil platform during a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.

In another, Today Tonight was unfairly critical of a clinic in how it conducted a skin treatment .

And Sunday Night was found to have breached the rules around race in how it covered an Amazonian tribe.

In the case of the hurricane disaster, Justice Lindsay Foster said in his ruling:

“The segment ran for approximately 28 minutes and reported on the sinking of a mobile platform used for oil extraction purposes (T2) in the Gulf of Mexico during a hurricane in September 2011 as well as the four day ordeal suffered by its crew thereafter, four of whom died. The segment was very critical of the owner of the oil platform and the owner of an Australian ship which was in the vicinity of the platform for some days immediately prior to the full onset of the hurricane.”

Seven suggested that the company had been accused in court of “murder and cowardice”. ACM’s investigation found that this was inaccurate because it implied the company was facing criminal charges rather than comments made during a civil case.

The ACMA argued:

“The comments would have conveyed to the ordinary, reasonable viewer that MM was facing criminal charges of the most serious kind, in a United States court.

“The ordinary reasonable viewer would be familiar with the crime of murder and it is this terminology that would resonate in the circumstances. The Segment repeatedly uses the words ‘accused’, ‘court’ and ‘murder’, which are stated emphatically by the Presenter, the Reporter, the lawyer interviewed during the Segment (RS) and others interviewed. These are terms that are powerful indicators of criminal proceedings.”

Sunday Night aired footage of a representative of the company’s managing director being doorstepped but did not carry the company’s full response which argued that to attempt a rescue would have put the ship’s 37 crew in too much danger.

In the case of the skin treatment, Today Tonight broadcast an investigation into a clinic using a technique known as Intense Pulsed Light to remove body hair.

Seven was found by ACMA to have breached the code because it did not give the clinic a fair chance to dispute claims that the correct tests had been carried out before the procedure.

And in the case of the coverage of the Suruwaha people in the Amazon, statements that the tribe practices infanticide were found to be inaccurate.

Justice Foster ruled against Seven in all three cases. Seven has been ordered to pay the ACMA’s costs.

If Seven does not appeal the court rulings, ACMA will be free to formally publish the findings shortly.


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