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Preston and TVWorks Ltd - 2008-016

Members

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

Complainant

  • Niklas Preston of Wellington

Dated

30th April 2008

Number

2008-016

Programme

60 Minutes

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaints under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
60 Minutes – story explored the craze surrounding imitations of Jackass movies involving dangerous stunts and an internet site that was profiting from it – footage of stunts shown – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and law and order standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – shocking footage was appropriate given the focus of the programme – warning was adequate – not upheld

Standard 2 (law and order) – item was a cautionary tale – did not encourage or promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity – not upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   A 60 Minutes item, broadcast on TV3 at around 8pm on 26 November 2007, explored the phenomenon that emerged following the release of the Jackass movies, in which young men performed risky stunts, and the way the internet had contributed to and encouraged the practice. The story was introduced with the warning “unless you’re an out-of-control teenager, you’ll find this shocking”.

[2]   The item explored the obsession some young people had with imitating Jackass and participating in dangerous stunts which were caught on film. Examples of footage of these stunts which featured on the internet were shown throughout the story. These included a man skidding along a road as he held on to the window of a moving car, people setting themselves alight, a man lighting a firework held in his mouth, a man jumping off a rooftop, a man eating a light bulb, a man hammering a nail through his foot, and various stunts using bikes and cars.

[3]   60 Minutes interviewed some of the “young people willing to risk their lives for airtime on the internet”. The reporter questioned these men about why they engaged in such stunts, and why they did not care about risking their lives. She suggested to them that they were “stupid” rather than “brave”.

[[4]   Erik Barath was interviewed – one of the “entrepreneurs” who was “cashing in as kids are getting hurt”, paying young people for their footage, showing it on his website, and offering monetary rewards for the most entertaining stunts. When questioned about the morality of exploiting these “not particularly bright kids” who were risking their lives, Mr Barath responded that it was the parents’ responsibility, not his. The reporter challenged him by saying “but you’re just sticking your head in the sand if you don’t think it’s dangerous.”

[5]   The reporter also interviewed a young man who was paralysed and brain-damaged as a result of imitating a Jackass stunt. He was introduced as “proof, if it’s needed, that these stunts can end in tragedy”.

[6]   Child psychologist Andrew Fuller offered the opinion that the thrill-seeking behaviour was a “combination of both [fearlessness and stupidity]” and that the internet was luring “fearless kids” and exploiting them.

[7]   The story concluded with the reporter stating that, for these young people “commonsense simply doesn’t exist. You just hope the wisdom of age catches up with them before their stunts do.”

Complaint

[8]   Niklas Preston complained to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Standard 2 (law and order) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice had been breached.

[9]   Mr Preston maintained that the story “showed young people doing illegal things”. He argued that police would have good grounds to arrest these people if they were caught, and that almost all the footage shown in the story was in bad taste and showed illegal behaviour and the exploitation of young people.

[10]   The complainant then likened the story to “uncensored child pornography in a ‘news’ piece” and said that the piece “was criticising the profiteering of this behaviour through internet media”. He considered that the story was hypocritical in that sense – by showing the footage it was doing exactly the same thing but on television rather than the internet. He noted that the story seemed to be edited to show as much shocking footage as possible.

Standards

[11]   TVWorks assessed Mr Preston’s complaint under Standards 1 and 2 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with theobservance of good taste and decency.

Standard 2 Law and Order

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

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[12]   TVWorks maintained that for Standard 1 to be breached the broadcast material must have been unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. It noted that relevant contextual factors in this case were the genre of the programme, its time of broadcast, its target and likely audience, and the fact that news and current affairs programming is not classified.

[13]   The broadcaster did not consider that any of the content complained about failed to observe the requirements of good taste and decency, or would have offended a significant number of viewers. It noted that the purpose of the programme was “to alert viewers to this disturbing trend and to raise public awareness”, with particular regard to how the internet had been a major contributing factor in its escalation. TVWorks maintained that the programme clearly did not condone the outrageous stunts shown or the entrepreneurs who were profiting from them. Furthermore, while some of the footage could be described as graphic, most of the clips were brief. TVWorks considered that in light of contextual factors, the inclusion of the clips was justified, not gratuitous, particularly as they strongly supported the tone and focus of the story.

[14]   TVWorks highlighted the warning given in the introduction to the story – “unless you’re an out-of-control teenager, you’ll find this shocking” – which, it said, gave a strong indication of the content of the upcoming segment, and a fair opportunity for viewers to make an informed choice whether or not to continue watching.

[15]   The broadcaster considered that the story was “a genuine and socially responsible exploration of a disturbing trend” and reiterated that it believed the footage shown was appropriate given the context in which it was screened. Accordingly, it found no breach of Standard 1.

[16]   With regard to Standard 2, TVWorks noted that there was no prohibition on broadcasters filming or showing behaviour that may be illegal, as long as a programme did not condone, glamorise, or invite imitation of such behaviour. It highlighted that the Authority had previously stated (in, for example, Decision No. 2006-051) that the intent behind Standard 2 was to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity.

[17]   Having reviewed the item, the broadcaster determined that it had not encouraged viewers to break the law. TVWorks considered that it was clear that the various stunts were not being glamorised or condoned, but rather encouraged scrutiny by viewers and highlighted the disturbing escalation of that behaviour and the exploitation of those involved by internet entrepreneurs.

[18]   Accordingly, TVWorks declined to uphold the complaint that the broadcast of the item had breached Standard 2.

Referral to the Authority

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

[20]   The complainant stated that TVWorks’ response did not convince him that it had not breached broadcasting standards.

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.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[22]   When the Authority considers a complaint which alleges a breach of good taste and decency it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. On this occasion the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the item was broadcast at approximately 8pm on a Sunday 
  • 60 Minutes is an unclassified current affairs programme
  • 60 Minutes has an adult target audience
  • the verbal warning prior to the story.

[23]   The Authority finds that, rather than presenting a sanitised version of the phenomenon, it was necessary for the broadcaster to convey honestly the extreme danger these young people were putting themselves in. Although some of the footage was shocking and difficult to view, in the Authority’s view it was appropriate given the focus of the programme. The warning in the introduction that the item would be “shocking” was sufficient in those circumstances, particularly given the time of the broadcast, the type of programme and the target audience.

[24]   The Authority agrees with TVWorks that the item was a cautionary tale and “a genuine and socially responsible exploration of a disturbing trend” aimed at 60 Minutes’ adult target audience, and parents in particular. The item clearly emphasised the awful consequences of the boys’ behaviour and the presenter repeatedly described the behaviour as stupid and dangerous.

[25]   For those reasons, taking into account the above contextual factors, the Authority does not uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1.

Standard 2 (law and order)

[26]   Mr Preston maintained that the story “showed young people doing illegal things” and therefore breached Standard 2. The Authority notes that the code does not prohibit broadcasters filming or broadcasting illegal or criminal activity. It has stated on previous occasions (e.g. Decision No. 2005-133) 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.

[27]   As discussed above, the item was intended as a cautionary tale to make people, especially parents, aware of the escalation of a disturbing trend. Although some of the footage did show illegal activity (for example, young people setting fire to each other and assaulting each other), the item did not promote, glamorise or condone the stunts. It clearly portrayed the behaviour as stupid and dangerous, and stressed the potentially horrific consequences.

[28]   Accordingly, the Authority finds that the item did not breach law and order standards. It declines to uphold the complaint.    

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
21 April 2008

Appendix

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

1.           Niklas Preston’s formal complaint – 28 November 2007
2.           TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 18 January 2008
3.           Mr Preston’s referral to the Authority – 6 February 2008
4.           TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 20 February 2008