Evidence from the trial of the men accused of murdering Beverley Bouma was reported in a One Network News item. The item included an extract from the prosecuting lawyer’s description of how the killing occurred. It was broadcast on TV One, at 6.00pm on 11 October 1999.
Mr Gribble complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the detailed description in the item was not suitable to include in a 6.00pm news programme, as that was a time during which children could be watching television.
TVNZ responded that, while its news editors were always mindful of the child audience that might watch news programmes, those programmes necessarily carry unpleasant content where that content is relevant and important. It did not consider that the content of the news item complained about went beyond currently accepted norms of decency and taste in the context of a criminal case which attracted high public interest and concerned home security. TVNZ declined to uphold Mr Gribble’s complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Gribble referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape containing the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
Evidence from the trial of the men accused of murdering Beverley Bouma was reported in a One Network News item broadcast on TV One, beginning at 6.00pm on 11 October 1999. Mrs Bouma was fatally shot during a "home invasion" robbery at a farmhouse near Reparoa earlier this year. The item included an extract from the Crown Prosecutor’s description of how the killing took place.
Mr Gribble complained about the description of violent acts in the item, and of the broadcast of the information that Mrs Bouma had been stripped naked before she was killed. He wrote that his three primary school aged children were in the room at the time the item was broadcast. In his view:
Parents should not have to be concerned about the content of the 6.00pm family news hour.
While acknowledging that "the public has a right to be informed" about news events, Mr Gribble suggested that the item "could and should" have been shown on the 10.00pm news, with an abridged version at 6.00pm. At a "family hour", he wrote, "viewing should be acceptable to families".
TVNZ considered the complaint in the context of standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These standards require broadcasters:
G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.
In its response to Mr Gribble, TVNZ first noted that the complaint raised the issue of how far news programmes should be sanitised, when screened during hours when children might be watching television. It noted the sometimes "inherent conflict" between the need to protect children and the presentation of accurate and objective news stories.
TVNZ then noted that news, by its nature, is sometimes distressing and unpleasant. However, to conceal such events might mislead viewers, it wrote. In this case, TVNZ continued:
To excessively sanitise the court coverage would in effect invite viewers to turn away from the reality of the incident.
In TVNZ’s view, given the prominence of then current discussion on home invasion, it was important that the public be fully informed about the Bouma murder trial.
In relation to the item’s effect on child viewers, TVNZ commented that the introduction to the item stated that its subject was the Bouma murder trial. There was, it wrote, "ample opportunity" for switching off the television before the detailed description of the crime was broadcast. TVNZ also considered that Mr Gribble was wrong to assume that he should not have to worry about the content of early evening news programmes, because, it wrote, a news programme must carry disturbing material if it is to be true to its function.
Dealing with standard G2, TVNZ did not consider that the item breached the standard:
…in the context of a criminal case high in public interest and relevant to the broader issue of home security.
Turning next to standard G12, TVNZ reiterated that it believed adult viewers recognised that news programmes must sometimes carry unpleasant content. It also did not accept Mr Gribble’s description of One Network News as a "family news hour".
TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.
In the referral of the complaint to the Authority, Mr Gribble repeated his view that the full item could have been played at 10.00pm, with the 6.00pm version omitting the court account of how Mrs Bouma was killed. He was disappointed that TVNZ did not, in his view, acknowledge this suggestion.
Mr Gribble accepted that it was inappropriate to describe One Network News as a "family news hour", as he had done in his complaint. However, he reiterated his view that the content of the item was unacceptable for the time of its broadcast, because of the likelihood of viewing by children
In its report to the Authority, TVNZ advised that it had no further comment on the matter.
The Authority acknowledges that the item conveyed information about a shocking and disturbing event. Its task is to decide whether the item was presented in a way which breached broadcasting standards.
There are two aspects to this complaint. The first is that the detailed description of Mrs Bouma’s murder contained in the item exceeded currently accepted norms of good taste and decency. When it assesses a complaint alleging a breach of this standard, the Authority is required to consider the context of the broadcast. This item was broadcast in the context of an early evening news programme. The facts reported were unpleasant and distressing, but were an accurate account of a murder trial of high public interest. The issue of home invasion was prominent in the community at that time. The Authority considers that the item was accurately and neutrally reported. It finds no breach of standard G2 in this context
The second aspect of the complaint concerned the effect that the programme might have on children. The Authority acknowledges that the 6.00pm news is broadcast during normally accepted children’s viewing time. It also observes that schools encourage children to take an interest in current affairs, and it can be expected that the audience for early evening news programmes will include children. However, the Authority concurs with TVNZ’s view that, at times, news programmes necessarily contain disturbing material. The Authority acknowledges that there is a tension for broadcasters between social function and social responsibility in this area. As noted above, the item reported disturbing facts about a murder. However, the matter was one of high public interest which was reported accurately and neutrally. On balance, the Authority does not consider that standard G12 was breached.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
20 December 1999
The following correspondence was received and considered when the Authority determined this complaint:
1. Richard Gribble’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 12 October 1999
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 29 October 1999
3. Mr Gribble’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 4 November 1999
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 15 November 1999