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Rogerson and TVWorks Ltd - 2008-057

Members

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

Complainant

  • Bruce Rogerson of Christchurch

Dated

13th August 2008

Number

2008-057

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item looked at trial of prison inmate charged with taking a female prison officer hostage and sexually assaulting her – showed Crown prosecutor telling the court that the inmate had shown the officer a note which referred to oral sex and had sniffed a sanitary disposal unit – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on 12 May 2008, reported on the trial of a prison inmate who was facing five charges, including kidnapping and sexual assault, after taking a female prison officer hostage. The reporter stated that he had “barricaded the door and began to talk about sex and was visibly aroused”. A Crown Prosecutor was shown at the trial telling the court:

He said to her, “I’m a dirty boy, I’m a dirty boy”, and he said that over and over. He then sat up and pulled over a sanitary disposal unit, lifted up the lid, and smelt it.

[2]   The reporter said the Crown told the court that the inmate had also written about his desire to sexually violate the guard, and had “dangled an explicit note about oral sex in front of her while the attack was happening”.

Complaint

[3]   Bruce Rogerson made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards of good taste and decency. He considered that the “detailed reporting of the evidence”, including the reference to oral sex and to the sanitary unit, breached Standard 1 because it was broadcast at a time and within a programme that was likely to be viewed by children under 14 years. He said he could not recall a suitable warning preceding the item, and felt that the trial could have been adequately reported “in a less gratuitous manner”.

Standards

[4]   TVWorks assessed Mr Rogerson’s complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. It provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

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

1a   Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

1b   Broadcasters should consider – and if appropriate require – the use of on-air visual and verbal warnings when programmes contain violent material, material of a sexual nature, coarse language or other content likely to disturb children or offend a significant number of adult viewers. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]   The broadcaster contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the material shown must have been unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown, including the programme’s classification, the time of broadcast, the intended audience and the use of warnings.

[6]   TVWorks maintained that the item was part of a news programme which screened at a scheduled time each day and had an adult target audience. It said that the Authority had accepted that news and current affairs programmes screened prior to the Adults Only watershed at 8.30pm were unlikely to be watched by unsupervised young children, who, given the choice, were more likely to watch programmes aimed at them on other channels. TVWorks noted that Appendix 1 to the Code states that news programmes are not classified because of their distinct nature.

[7]   The broadcaster did not consider that the information in the item was “sufficiently surprising or offensive” to warrant a warning. It stated that the producers considered it necessary to present some of the “unsavoury” evidence that was before the court, “in order to show the state of mind of the offender and the danger the officer was in”.

[8]   TVWorks concluded by saying that the material was unlikely to disturb children because the nature of the evidence would have been meaningless to younger children who were watching the news. In any event, it said, the nature of the item was signalled early on, which allowed supervising adults ample opportunity to exercise discretion if they thought the information was unsuitable for children’s viewing.

[9]   Accordingly, TVWorks declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 1 was breached.

Referral to the Authority

[10]   Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, Mr Rogerson referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that the journalists who prepared the item, as well as the broadcaster, had not given adequate consideration to guidelines 1a and 1b to Standard 1, in that no warning was given prior to the item so that parents could not decide whether their children should watch it.

[11]   Mr Rogerson accepted that news programmes were targeted at adults, but considered that was irrelevant as they were broadcast at a time that meant they were likely to be viewed by all age groups. He therefore believed that the content was not justified by its context in terms of Standard 1.

[12]   The complainant argued the item “was gratuitous and seemed to be designed to titillate the viewer rather than inform”. He disagreed with TVWorks’ conclusion that the material was not likely to disturb younger viewers and said it had not taken into consideration “the questions that might be provoked in an inquiring mind”.

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.

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

  • the item was broadcast at 6pm
  • the item was part of an unclassified news programme
  • the item was not preceded by a warning
  • the item was broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing time
  • news programmes have an adult target audience.

[15]   News programmes by their nature sometimes contain unpleasant material. While the details in this item were “unsavoury”, as aptly described by the broadcaster, the Authority considers that they were acceptable in the context of a news report on a criminal case.

[16]   Although there was no warning given prior to the item, the introduction to the item and its subject matter – a trial for kidnapping and sexual assault – gave viewers an indication that the report would likely include details of the incident that gave rise to the trial. Taking into account the above contextual factors, the Authority 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
13 August 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Bruce Rogerson’s formal complaint – 12 May 2008
2.           TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 10 June 2008
3.           Mr Rogerson’s referral to the Authority – 15 June 2008
4.           TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 30 June 2008