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How to door-step someone

By Steven | November 29, 2011

John Campbell has demonstrated, with immaculate ethics, how to go about door-stepping someone. Door-stepping is turning up to someone’s place with cameras rolling to get that person to answer questions. As the BSA has often said, it’s usually unfair to do this.

But the Campbell Live crew weren’t unfair. They were doing a story on Tower Insurance. They’d talked to a punter whose property was in Christchurch’s red-zone. His insurance policy was a replacement one. Tower was going to pay for repairs but not replace his home somewhere else. Campbell Live called Tower three times, and filled out a media inquiry form. Tower didn’t respond.

So Campbell went to Tower’s office to try to get a response. Here’s how you deal with the poor receptionist in a situation like that:

Campbell: I am so sorry just to walk up to you like this, but we have tried tremendously hard to get somebody to talk to us about the situation in Christchurch with replacement polices in the red zone. Now, we know absolutely that that is not your job and your department. But we have been trying to get somebody to talk to us, no one returns calls. Is there anyone here that can deal with the media on that subject?

The receptionist was shown competently dealing with the situation. I’m not sure the same can be said of Tower’s head honcho. Campbell was first told that he was in a meeting, and replied, with the sort of effusive courtesy that only Campbell can muster:

Sorry, this is a terribly difficult situation for you… Would you mind passing on to them that we are utterly happy to wait for them, they look like comfortable seats, we are very happy to wait until they are available.

The CEO then decided he wouldn’t be available at all. Campbell left an invitation to appear on the programme that night.

The BSA has said door-stepping should be a last resort. It should only be used when other attempts to contact the person have failed. In this case, the BSA added another requirement that seems spot on: that the door-step be a genuine attempt to elicit information (and not, for example, just an excuse to get some sexy footage of someone refusing to answer questions).

The BSA concluded, quite rightly, that Campbell’s behaviour wasn’t unfair here.

Still, Tower made another complaint of unfairness relating to a different point. I’m more sympathetic to this one. About an hour and a half before the programme, they emailed a statement to Campbell Live. It said that “there appeared to be some misunderstandings circulating about the nature of the cover available under home insurance policies” and added:

Campbell Live summarised that email this way:

We received an email from Tower saying that they are working hard to ensure that claims are resolved fairly and efficiently and that the concerns currently being expressed are based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the cover available under home insurance policies.

Then he added:

Frankly, that statement raises at least as many questions as it answers. What does replacement mean?

Yes, that letter was sent late in the day. To be fair to Tower, though, they were first contacted about the story that morning. And there’s surely no doubt that Campbell Live could have made time for a longer summary. Campbell Live complained that it would have taken more than 3 minutes to read the statement out in full. But they certainly had some time available: after all, they were offering to do an interview with the Chief Executive and would certainly have made time for that. Besides, Tower was only looking for a fair summary. What happened, I think, was that Campbell Live didn’t like the format of the response, and they short-changed it.

Was it really fair on Tower not to explain that its policy is a top-up for the Earthquake Commission land-damage cover? The BSA thought so:

In our view, while this provided only a very concise representation of Tower’s position, it was sufficient in the context of the programme, which sought to simplify a complicated legal matter for the average viewer.

I disagree. In the context of a show that criticised Tower strongly, dramatised that criticism with a door-stepping, suggested Tower was breaching its own “core value” of empathy to customers, and slagged Tower for failing to front up and explain its policy, it was unfair for Campbell Live not to do a better job of conveying the explanation Tower did give.

So I think it the programme was unfair. But given that Tower then continued to refuse to come on the show and explain its position, I don’t think any penalty was called for, beyond upholding that aspect of the complaint.

Topics: Broadcasting Standards Authority | 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “How to door-step someone”

  1. Graeme Edgeler Says:
    November 30th, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Hadn’t thought of it like that … is there an advertising standards/deceptive conduct thing going on here?

    Tower have advised that their full replacement cover doesn’t extend to land, and is only a top-up to other government-provided cover, and it won’t replace your house with another one of the same value in another area if your current one is unusable. This is apparently industry standard, and pretty reasonable overall as a policy type.

    But even if this is all clearly and obviously explained in the policy, should they be marketing a policy of this type to the effect that it is “full replacement cover”?

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