M-Net was guilty of the misrepresentation of a power-saving device that it featured on its current affairs programme, Carte Blanche, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA (BCCSA) said on Thursday.
“In effect, the broadcast amounts to an indication that it has, according to the BCCSA, treated the public unfairly,” chairman Kobus van Rooyen said in his written judgement.
The ruling comes after Sprigg Investments laid complaints that the nature of and effectiveness of the Electro Smart device had been put into question following the airing of the programme.
Electro Smart is marketed as a power-saving device which controls people's geysers in their homes.
In the broadcast, Carte Blanche interviewed electrical technician Raoul Coetzee, who implied that the device was a mere timer and stated that it was a “rip-off”.
A disgruntled customer also said in the programme that it did not save electricity and that he wanted to cancel his contract.
Sprigg responded by saying their explanation of why the device was not a timer was not broadcast, and it had never had the opportunity to respond to the allegations.
An independent report by Sedick Arnold - someone who could speak with authority on the device - had also not been aired.
“The Tribunal has no doubt that crucial aspects were not included in the present broadcast,” said Van Rooyen.
He also ruled that the programme had erred in reporting on an SA Bureau of Standards report which approved a device “almost identical” to the Electro Smart.
“The failure to mention the SABS report... or seriously engage other reports that were furnished to Carte Blanche was also a violation of the Broadcasting Code.”
A further complaint by Sprigg was that the channel had - through a legal expert on the National Consumer Act and the Consumer Protection Act - said the consumer contracts were null and void.
This allegation had never been put to the complainants to respond to, said Van Rooyen.
He said the tribunal had no doubt that crucial aspects had not been included in the broadcast and therefore the public was not able to make up its own mind.
“The viewer is left with the distinct impression that Electro Smart is nothing other than a timer, and that the good news is that contracts entered into are null and void.
“Had the viewers, however, been treated fairly by the respondent, such a clear conclusion could not reasonably have been drawn,” he said.
M-Net has been ordered to broadcast a statement of Van Rooyen's findings during the first five minutes of either this weekend's Carte Blanche programme or the next one.
Sprigg had also asked for a fine to be imposed. However, this was not granted.
“Although the present matter amounts to a serious breach, it is not quite as blatant as the breaches for which fines are usually imposed.
“Furthermore, it is often more burdensome and embarrassing for a broadcaster to broadcast a correction than to have to pay a fine,” said Van Rooyen. - Sapa