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Burn and TVWorks Ltd - 2010-057


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


  • Ian Burn of Christchurch


5th August 2010




3 News




TVWorks Ltd

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item reported on a 3-year-old child walking a tightrope over a tiger enclosure – allegedly in breach of children’s interests

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – light-hearted human interest story – child not humiliated – adequate care and sensitivity shown by broadcaster – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on Wednesday 14 April 2010, reported that a 3-year-old child had walked a tightrope above a tiger enclosure in China as part of a publicity stunt for a circus. The news presenter introduced the item as follows:

Now next time your child says, “I can’t, it’s too hard”, remind them of a new old Chinese proverb: If at first you don't succeed, try doing it on tightrope with six hungry tigers watching from below. According to the father of one 3-year-old it works a treat.


[2]   Ian Burn made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards relating to children’s interests. Referring to guideline 9d to the children’s interests standard, Mr Burn argued that the item contained a child being humiliated and badly treated and that the broadcaster had not handled this with care and sensitivity.

[3]   Mr Burn considered that the news reader’s introduction implied that “if parents couldn’t get their children to behave they should consider this type of treatment for them”. He considered that this was “completely unacceptable” and that the news reader’s expression indicated that she thought the item was humorous. The complainant argued that the item promoted child abuse.

[4]   Mr Burn concluded by saying, “Given New Zealand’s relatively high rates of child abuse I just don't think this is acceptable, and I don't think TV3 has shown ‘care and sensitivity’ in regard to this matter.”


[5]   Standard 9 and guideline 9d of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.

Guideline 9d

Programmes containing disturbing social and domestic friction or sequences in which people – especially children – or animals may be humiliated or badly treated, should be handled with care and sensitivity:

• all gratuitous material of this nature should be avoided and any scenes shown must pass the test of relevancy within the context of the programme. If thought likely to disturb children, the programme should be scheduled later in the evening.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   TVWorks maintained that Standard 9 was intended “to protect the viewing choices of children so that material broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing hours are unlikely to harm or disturb them.”

[7]   The broadcaster noted that the item was part of a scheduled news programme that had an adult target audience. It alleged that the Authority had accepted that although news and current affairs programmes screened prior to the Adults Only watershed at 8.30pm, these were unlikely to be watched by unsupervised young children who, “given the choice, are more likely to watch programming directed at them screening on other channels”. It noted that news programmes were unclassified because of their distinct nature.

[8]   TVWorks considered that children would not have been negatively affected by the news item or by the news reader’s comments. They were likely to be accompanied by an adult, it said, who could explain the item to them. TVWorks maintained that “most parents would have understood the slightly humorous angle with which this piece was presented and would not have considered it a prescription for child abuse”. It considered that one indicator of this was the fact that “tigers are not easy to come by”, and further that the child in the item was not shown in any distress, but was translated as saying that she enjoyed the experience. Safety measures were clearly shown, TVWorks said, and “the feat was presented as a practiced skill and not as a violent punishment”.

[9]   The broadcaster concluded that child viewers were unlikely to have been alarmed or harmed by the comments or the footage, and it declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[10]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Burn referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He argued that children’s interest in the item would have been increased because it featured a child, and that many child viewers would not have been supervised, contrary to TVWorks’ argument. Mr Burn also considered that the broadcaster “was being naive in taking the indicated lack of distress of the child at face value”. He reiterated that the reporter in the item “thought that it probably was [child abuse]”, and that the news reader “did actively promote this as an option for punishment”.

[11]   Finally, the complainant noted that TVWorks had not outlined the steps it had taken in accordance with guideline 9d to ensure that “this instance of a child being badly treated was handled with care and sensitivity”.

Authority's Determination

[12]   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.

[13]   We disagree with the complainant’s assertions that the item promoted child abuse, that the child was humiliated, and that the news reader actively promoted the tightrope act as an “option for punishment”.

[14]   In our view, the item was a human interest story about a group of Chinese circus performers who had included a young child in their publicity stunt. The presenter’s introduction was tongue-in-cheek, and the comments were an obvious attempt at humour which was not meant to be taken seriously.

[15]   During the item itself, the reporter questioned whether having the child perform the act over a tiger enclosure at a zoo was a form of child abuse. Further, it was clear from the footage that the group were professional entertainers and that the child was attached to a safety harness at all times. We also note that the young girl was shown saying that she enjoyed walking across the tightrope. She was clearly not humiliated or embarrassed in any way.

[16]   Accordingly, we find that TVWorks handled the item with adequate care and sensitivity and conclude that Standard 9 was not breached on this occasion.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
5 August 2010


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

1.           Ian Burn’s formal complaint – 15 April 2010

2.          TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 2 June 2010

3.          Mr Burn’s referral to the Authority – 19 June 2010