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Atkins and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2007-066

Dated

4th December 2007

Number

2007-066

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Headnote

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

The Complaint
In a segment of Balls of Steel called "Pain Men", two men devise various methods of inflicting pain on each other. In this programme, one of the men applied an electric belt sander twice to the other man's bare buttocks. The injured man then had a nail hammered through the skin between his thumb and forefinger and into a block of wood. A viewer complained that the programme set a dangerous and stupid example, and breached standards of good taste and decency, law and order, and children's interests.

The Broadcaster's Response
TVNZ said Balls of Steel was a comedy/entertainment programme that contained some sequences which created comedy out of the most distasteful acts. It pointed out that the programme was rated Adults Only, screened at 9.30pm, and carried a warning that it contained scenes "which may disturb".


The broadcaster said that while the programme displayed unfamiliar methods of inflicting pain that were readily capable of easy imitation, it was in a context in which the participants were described as idiots. Viewers were advised "not to do this at home", the men were willing participants, and the programme had shown the consequences of the men being genuinely hurt.

The Authority's Decision
The Authority noted the contextual factors, but took the view that the degree of pain and injury inflicted in the programme, purely for the purpose of entertainment, overstepped the limits of good taste and decency. In particular, the man who had his buttocks sanded was plainly in considerable pain and his buttocks were clearly skinned and bloodied.


The Authority also found that the programme glamorised and condoned assault, in breach of the law and order standard.

The Authority noted that it is a criminal offence to assault another person, even with their consent. Although the common law recognises a defence of consent in sporting activities, the Authority draws a distinction between the technical assaults committed by players in legitimate sports games, and the acts committed on this programme. Sports games have established rules; and the object of the game is to win. If a player inflicts intentional harm on another player in breach of those rules, the offending player will be punished.

The Authority also pointed out that, unlike other programmes that contain potentially dangerous stunts in which participants try to "beat the odds ", the sole purpose of the Balls of Steel "challenge" was to inflict considerable pain for entertainment.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)  upheld

Standard 2 (law and order)  upheld

Standard 9 (children's interests)  not upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Balls of Steel, broadcast on TV2 at 9.30pm on 18 May 2007, included a segment called "Pain Men" that involved two men who used various methods to inflict pain on one another. The man inflicting the pain applied an electric belt sander twice to the other man’s buttocks. He then hammered a nail through the skin between the other man’s thumb and forefinger and into a block of wood.

Complaint

[2]   Wayne Atkins complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item set a dangerous and stupid example, and that it lacked "all comprehension of the term role-modeling". He argued that the tools used in the item were readily accessible and "were not intended to be used to sand human flesh, or hammer nails into people’s hands".

Standards

[3]   Standards 1, 2 and 9 of the Free to Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. 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 the observance of good taste and decency.

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, broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4]  In response TVNZ explained that the programme Balls of Steel was a comedy/entertainment programme that featured a range of humorous styles. It stated that the one thing the programme's various sequences had in common was "that the participants have to be ludicrously brave, foolhardy and show some contempt for their own physical safety". It maintained that the programme:

...contained some sequences which create comedy out of the most distasteful acts, so repellent that they generated astonished laughter.

[5]  The broadcaster pointed out that the programme was screened at 9.30pm, was classified Adults Only (AO), was targeted at adults, and was preceded by a warning that stated:

This programme is rated adults only. It contains scenes that may disturb and language that may offend some people.

[6]   Taking the contextual factors into account, TVNZ declined to uphold the good taste and decency complaint.

[7]   In terms of Standard 2, TVNZ argued that its task was to determine whether the item was inconsistent with the maintenance of law and order. It maintained that while guideline 2d seemed relevant in that the sequence displayed "unfamiliar methods of inflicting pain that were readily capable of easy imitation, it did so in a context in which the participants were described as idiots". It pointed out that viewers were advised "not to do this at home" and that this advice was in accordance with the maintenance of law and order. It maintained that the programme had not glamorised the men’s actions, because it had shown the consequences of them being genuinely hurt, and that the men had willingly taken part in the programme. As a result, TVNZ declined to uphold the law and order aspect of the complaint.

[8]   The broadcaster believed it had sufficiently demonstrated that it had considered the interests of children by screening the programme at 9.30pm, by preceding the programme with a warning, by classifying the programme as AO, by including advice that certain activities should not be tried at home and by describing the people involved in challenges based on pain as "idiots". Taking all these factors into account, TVNZ declined to uphold the children’s interests complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[9]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Atkins referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[10]   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)

[11]   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 there are a number of contextual factors that are favourable to the broadcaster’s position. These include:

  • the programme was broadcast at 9.30pm
  • the adult target audience of the programme
  • the AO classification of the programme
  • the visual and verbal warnings.

[12]  However, the Authority has previously stated that contextual factors such as those listed above will not always be sufficient to prevent a programme from breaching standards of good taste and decency (see Decision No. 2005-137).

[13]  On this occasion, the man whose buttocks were sanded was plainly in considerable pain and his buttocks were clearly skinned and bloodied. A short time later he was subjected to similar pain and injury when a nail was hammered through the skin between his thumb and forefinger into a block of wood.

[14]  The Authority is of the view that, despite the contextual factors in paragraph [11], the degree of pain and injury inflicted in the programme purely for the purpose of entertainment overstepped the limits of good taste and decency, and breached the requirement in Standard 1. Accordingly, the Authority upholds this part of the complaint.

 
Standard 2 (law and order)

[15]   The Authority 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.

[16]   It is a criminal offence to assault another person, even with their consent. Although the common law recognises a defence of consent in sporting activities, the Authority considers that there is a material difference between technical assaults committed by players in legitimate sports games and the acts committed on the programme. Sports games have established rules and the point of playing is to win the game. If a player inflicts intentional harm on another player in breach of those rules, the offending player will be punished.

[17]   Unlike other programmes that contain stunts where a person tries to beat the odds, the sole purpose of the Balls of Steel "challenge" was for the men to inflict considerable pain on each other in order to entertain the programme’s audience. In this respect, the Authority is in no doubt that the broadcast condoned criminal activity in breach of Standard 2.

[18]   Furthermore, the Authority is of the view that the programme glamorised criminal activity. It did this, first, by its inclusion of the activity in a popular entertainment programme and, second, by the humorous manner in which the host treated the assault of one "Pain Man" by another. Accordingly, the Authority upholds the law and order complaint.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[19]   The programme subject to complaint was broadcast on a Friday evening at 9.30pm. While children do tend to stay up later on Friday nights, the Authority is of the view that the programme was broadcast after children’s normally accepted viewing times. Accordingly, it does not uphold the children’s interest complaint.

Bill of Rights

[20]   For the avoidance of doubt, the Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching this determination. For the reasons given above, the Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of Balls of Steel on 18 May 2007 breached Standards 1 and 2 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[21]  Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It invited submissions on orders from the parties.

[22]  Mr Atkins submitted that the Authority should order TVNZ to make a donation of money, time or equipment to a film unit in Whangarei.

[23]  TVNZ made relatively extensive submissions on the Authority’s reasoning in the decision. The broadcaster also submitted that the Authority did not have jurisdiction to order it to pay a donation to an unrelated third party and that the decision to uphold the complaint was "penalty enough".

[24]  As a result of TVNZ’s submissions, the Authority decided to elaborate on and clarify its reasoning in certain parts of the decision to make it clear to broadcasters and to programme appraisers which aspects of the broadcast breached the law and order standard.

[25]  After considering the submissions on orders, the Authority does not intend to impose an order on this occasion. It is the Authority’s view that the publication of its decision is sufficient in all the circumstances, as it clarifies the Authority’s expectations in respect of the broadcast of this type of item.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 December 2007

Appendix

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

1.            Wayne Atkins’ formal complaint to TVNZ – 18 May 2007
2.           TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 18 May 2007
3.           Mr Atkins’ referral to the Authority – 4 July 2007
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 23 July 2007
5.           Mr Atkins’ submissions on orders – 11 October 2007
6.           TVNZ’s submissions on orders – 25 October 2007