The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has upheld a complaint from the Commerce Commission against TV3 current affairs show 60 Minutes. An item, broadcast at 7.30pm on 15 October 2007, presented the story of Ewan Campbell, who had “invented a way to make farms grow faster” but had been prosecuted by the Commerce Commission and faced a fine of “over a quarter of a million dollars for false representation” (see Newsfront, NZ Skeptic 84).
In their decision, released on 2 October, the BSA found the programme failed to provide viewers with a significant perspective which was critical to their understanding of the issues, and was unfair to the Commission because it did not fairly present the Commission’s side of the story. Two other complaints – that the programme contained inaccurate statements and that a promo was unfair to a Commission representative – were not upheld. The broadcaster was ordered to pay costs and to broadcast a statement on the decision.
At the start of her coverage Melanie Reid (winner of the 2004 Bent Spoon Award for her “testing” of medium Jeanette Wilson – see NZ Skeptic 73), stated that a Commerce Commission representative had posed as an avocado grower seeking information from Mr Campbell. A year later four investigators had arrived with a search warrant. The presenter said:
You’ll be asking by now what heinous crime has taken place up here in the back blocks of Waihi. Well, was it a crime? All that’s happened is that a man has invented an alternative to conventional chemical-based fertilisers, a natural system that many farmers up and down this country swear by.
The programme continued in a similar vein, portraying Campbell as a battler whose company, Probitas, was being driven out of business by vested interests in the fertiliser industry, and fertiliser consultant Dr Doug Edmeades as a “hired gun” for that industry. Campbell was shown demonstrating with a voltmeter that there were voltage differences in the soil, saying “you change the terminals around, it goes immediately into negative, which shows it is a directional flow.”
He continued, “What we found out was that there [are] low level electrical currents anywhere in the world, but we can actually put the right type of silica on, which actually enhances it and lifts it… it lifts the nutrient availability, stimulates the microbiology, and enhances the plant production”.
As Doug Edmeades said on the programme: “Based on the scientific evidence accumulated to date, and based on what that product contains, and based on its claimed mode of action, it cannot work as advertised.”
Agricultural journalist Philippa Stevenson provides more detail on the case at www.ruralnetwork.co.nz/pseudo-probe-of-fake-fertiliser/