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McGovern and TVWorks Ltd - 2010-052

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Tapu Misa
  • Leigh Pearson

Complainant

  • John McGovern of Tauranga

Dated

6th July 2010

Number

2010-052

Programme

60 Minutes

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
60 Minutes – programme contained teaser for item in upcoming episode – teaser about a teenage boy who had committed suicide and the events leading up to his death involving two girls – allegedly unfair

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – girls not identifiable beyond those who already knew of the events – teaser did not draw any conclusions about their motives or character – not unfair – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An episode of 60 Minutes was broadcast on TV3 at 7.30pm on Wednesday 17 February 2010. At the end of the programme, a teaser was shown for an upcoming item that was going to be screened in the following week’s episode. The teaser was about a teenage boy who had committed suicide and two girls who were involved in events leading up to his death. The presenter introduced the teaser by saying:

Last week in the small township of Katikati there was a birthday party for a boy who will never grow up.

[2]   As footage was shown of the boy’s friends and family holding a posthumous birthday party for him, a voiceover said:

Michael Powell was just 15 when he took his own life. His parents believed he was influenced by a series of texts, in which a girl said she was killing herself and claimed another friend was already dead.

[3]   Brief close-up footage of a person’s hands texting on a cell phone was shown and the screen read, “If she’s gone so am I. I’m so scared”.

[4]   Referring to the girls’ text messages to her son, the deceased boy’s mother stated:

I don’t know if they were supposed to be a joke, or hoax, or a sort of sick, I don’t know.

[5]   Another woman was shown saying:

Those girls were engaging in actions that were fun. They had no idea, absolutely no idea.

Complaint

[6]   John McGovern made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the teaser breached Standard 6 (fairness).

[7]   The complainant argued that the teaser used statements by the distraught mother to place blame on two young girls in the community for her son’s suicide. He considered that the teaser and the future 60 Minutes item were, “likely to have serious, if not tragic, consequences for the girls and families”.

Standards

[8]   Standard 6 and guidelines 6d, 6e and 6f of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guidelines

6d   Broadcasters should respect the right of individuals to express their own opinions.

6e   Individuals and particularly children and young people, taking part or referred to should not be exploited, humiliated or unfairly identified.

6f   Where the programme deals with distressing circumstances (e.g. grief and bereavement) discretion and sensitivity are expected.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   TVWorks contended that the two girls involved in the tragic event had not been identified to the general public in the teaser. It stated that, while many people in the local community would have been aware of the girls’ identity, neither the teaser nor the later item itself revealed any information that would identify the girls to anyone who did not already know of their connection to the boy’s death.

[10]   The broadcaster said that, with this in mind, it had considered whether the teaser “caused undue humiliation to or unfair treatment of the girls” when balanced against the public interest in the story, which included future prevention of suicide.

[11]   TVWorks stated that “the story featured almost a year after the event, but at a significant point in the grieving process of the boy’s family and friends”. It said that, “by this time, much information about the tragedy would have been available to the local community” and it argued that it was unlikely that the broadcast would have revealed anything new or unfair to the two girls.

[12]   With respect to the complainant’s concerns about negative impacts on the girls and their families, the broadcaster pointed out that the details of the story were already in the public arena and that The New Zealand Herald had published an article about the matter three weeks prior to the broadcast, which included comment from the boy’s mother.

[13]   TVWorks argued that great care had been taken by the 60 Minutes team to investigate and retell the story in a way that promoted public awareness and debate without revealing the identity of the two teenage girls or placing any liability upon them. It said the teaser included a quote from the boy’s mother, “who had a right to express her opinion”, and that this had been balanced by the comments of the other woman who spoke of the girls’ naivety.

[14]   The broadcaster contended that the voiceover “inferred that the details of the tragedy were unclear and asked the question about future prevention”. It accepted that, by its very nature, suicide was a sensitive issue which needed to be treated carefully, but which also needed public discussion.

[15]   TVWorks argued that, while the unidentifiable girls’ connection to the event was highlighted in the teaser, when balanced with the considerations of public interest the girls were not treated unfairly. It declined to uphold the complaint that the teaser breached Standard 6.

Referral to the Authority

[16]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr McGovern referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He reiterated his argument that the teaser and the 60 Minutes item shown the following week had breached Standard 6.

[17]   The complainant argued that the text shown in the promo and the programme had been taken out of context, as only a few text messages of many had been shown. He questioned whether there was any public interest in the story and maintained that “the programme proposed to the local community that these youngsters had a major contributory role in the 15-year-old boy’s death”.

[18]   Mr McGovern said that the nub of his complaint was that two vulnerable girls had been “unfairly identified, humiliated and exploited”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[19]   TVWorks argued that Mr McGovern’s original formal complaint related to the teaser shown at the end of the 17 February broadcast which promoted a story that was going to be broadcast, and subsequently was, on 24 February.

[20]   The broadcaster said that its decision was based solely on the teaser and not the subsequent main item, which the complainant had included in his referral to the Authority.

Authority's Determination

[21]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Procedural Matter

[22]   Mr McGovern’s formal complaint about the 17 February teaser was lodged with TVWorks on 18 February. In that complaint he alleged that the teaser and the main item, which was to be broadcast on 24 February, were unfair.

[23]   Because complaints under the Broadcasting Act 1989 can only be lodged once a programme has been broadcast, the Authority agrees with TVWorks that Mr McGovern has not lodged a valid formal complaint about the 24 February 60 Minutes item.

[24]   Accordingly, the Authority confines its consideration of this complaint to the 17 February teaser.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[25]   Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. Mr McGovern argued that two vulnerable girls had been “unfairly identified, humiliated and exploited” (guideline 6e).

[26]   We agree with TVWorks that the two girls referred to in the teaser would not have been identifiable to anyone who did not already know of their connection to the boy’s death. They were not named, shown or identified in any other way.

[27]   In this context, we disagree with the complainant that the girls were treated unfairly. The brief teaser covered a legitimate story and did so in a matter-of-fact way. The opinion of the deceased boy’s mother was given alongside the view of another woman who noted that the girls were “engaging in actions that were fun” and were unaware of the potential consequences of their actions. Guideline 6d acknowledges that individuals have the right to express their own opinions.

[28]   We consider that the teaser went no further than to accurately outline the girls’ connection with the boy’s death. It drew no conclusions as to their motives or character, and did not blame them for the boy’s death. We consider that the broadcaster displayed discretion and sensitivity when dealing with a sensitive matter (guideline 6f).

[29]   For these reasons, we consider that the girls were not treated unfairly by the broadcaster.

[30]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

 

For the above reasons we decline to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
6 July 2010

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1.          John McGovern’s formal complaint – 18 February 2010

2.          TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 12 March 2010

3.          Mr McGovern’s referral to the Authority – 12 April 2010

4.          TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 26 April 2010