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McDonald and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-027

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Donald McDonald of Welllington

Dated

10th June 2009

Number

2009-027

Programme

Close Up

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – item about a 10-year-old child who had taken his mother’s car for a joyride – child interviewed while sitting in the driver’s seat – showed child sitting in the driver’s seat of the car alone and rolling down the driveway at his house – allegedly in breach of law and order and children’s interests  

Findings
Standards 2 (law and order) and 9 (children’s interests) – item did not encourage adult target audience to break the law or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise illegal behaviour – clearly illustrated the boy’s actions were dangerous and illegal – not upheld 

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Close Up, broadcast on TV One at 7pm on Wednesday 28 January 2009, reported on the recent antics of a child who had taken his mother’s car and driven 100 kilometres on public roads. The presenter introduced the item by saying:

Spare a thought for [mother’s name] because she’s a mum who desperately needs help. Her ten-year-old son is, as she puts it, a cheeky little toad. Not the first mum to make that observation I’d wager, but in [mother’s name] case her darling is going beyond cheeky to dangerous. His latest escapade was to pinch the keys to the family car and take it on a hundred-K road trip before his mum got wind of his latest prank.

[2]   A reporter interviewed the boy as he was sitting in the driver’s seat of the car. The boy explained to the reporter what had been going through his mind as he drove the car. The item stated that one person, who did pursue the boy, recalled the look of terror on the boy’s face as he drove over Mt Messenger.

[3]   Later, footage was shown of the boy in the driver’s seat as the car rolled down his mother’s driveway. As the car rolled past the reporter standing in the driveway, she said, “look at him, he’s so tiny behind the wheel, you’d think loads of people would try and stop him, but they didn’t”.

[4]   After hearing how the car keys were finally taken from the boy after he stopped at a petrol station, the audience were told that the driving episode was over, but that the underlying problem with his behaviour was not. The boy’s mother explained that her son had been caught shoplifting, but that authorities did nothing because of his age. The mother talked about the concerns she had for the future of her young son and said that she was leaving her job to look after him.

[5]   The item also showed the boy riding his bike with no hands down his driveway and out across a public road without stopping to look for traffic.

[6]   Returning to the studio, the presenter stated:

Now listen, I want to point out, you saw [the boy] at the wheel there, that was only in the drive, there was no way we were going to let him out on the road again. Now as you heard, [the boy’s] mum is serious about getting help. She loves her boy, so if you have expertise in this area and feel you can offer advice, then contact....               

Complaint

[7]   Donald McDonald made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item glorified crime and breached standards relating to children’s interests.

Standards

[8]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 2 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

Standard 2 Law and Order

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   With respect to Standard 2 (law and order), TVNZ argued that for a breach of the standard to occur, an item must actively promote disrespect for the law. It said that the item focused on a distraught solo parent seeking help and advice in dealing with a misbehaving child. The broadcaster stated that the intention of the item was to “spell out the real danger to both the boy and public if this mother did not get appropriate help disciplining her child”.

[10]   The broadcaster considered that the item did not glamorise the boy’s activities, but outlined the concerns regarding his behaviour. It said the footage of the boy behind the wheel of the car in his driveway was used to illustrate just how small he appeared in the driver’s seat. It pointed out that the presenter had told viewers that when the boy was shown in the car he was in his driveway and was not being allowed to drive on the road again. TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 2.

[11]   Turning to Standard 9 (children’s interests), the broadcaster said that it was satisfied that it had adequately considered the interests of child viewers. It noted that Close Up was aimed at an adult audience and that the focus of the item was on finding a way to protect the child. It declined to uphold the Standard 9 complaint. 

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr McDonald referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[13]   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.

Standard 2 (law and order) and Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[14]   The Authority has stated on a number of occasions that the intent behind the law and order standard is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity (see, for example Decision No. 2008-100). Mr McDonald argued the item glamorised the child’s illegal behaviour.

[15]   The Authority notes that the young boy was clearly enjoying the attention his actions had generated, and that he wore a cheeky grin on his face for most of the time he was being interviewed. Had this item been included in a G-rated programme that was targeted at child viewers, the Authority may have been minded to uphold the Standard 2 complaint. Unaccompanied child viewers may not have understood the potential consequences of the boy’s actions, but would have seen the child receiving attention and encouragement to sit in the vehicle again and roll it down the driveway. The Authority also considers that it was irresponsible to show the boy riding his bike with no hands down his driveway and out across a public road without checking for traffic.

[16]   However, the Authority has said on many occasions that unattended child viewers are unlikely to watch news and current affairs programmes. Because Close Up was an unclassified current affairs programme with an adult target audience, the Authority finds that the item did not reach the threshold of glamorising the boy’s behaviour. Adult viewers would have understood how dangerous and irresponsible the young boy’s actions had been, and the item also focused on the boy’s mother and her obvious distress in trying to deal with her son. These elements of the programme could have been explained to any child viewers who were watching in the company of their parents or caregivers.

[17]   For the same reasons outlined in paragraphs [14]–[16] above, the Authority considers that the broadcaster adequately considered the interests of child viewers.

[18]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standards 2 and 9.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
10 June 2009

Appendix

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

1.          Donald McDonald’s formal complaint – 29 January 2009
2.         TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 26 February 2009
3.         Mr McDonald’s referral to the Authority – 24 March 2009
4.         TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 17 April 2009