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Viewers for Television Excellence Inc and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2006-032

Members

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

Complainant

  • Viewers for Television Excellence Inc (VoTE)

Dated

28th June 2006

Number

2006-032

Programme

Coronation Street

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Coronation Street – episode in which the character “Katy” attempted suicide – allegedly put children at risk

Findings
Standard 9 (children’s interests) – appropriately considered by broadcaster through programme classification, time of broadcast, warning, and restrained nature of portrayal – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] An episode of Coronation Street, which included the depiction of a suicide attempt by the diabetic character “Katy”, was broadcast on TV One at 7.30pm on 16 February 2006. Coronation Street is a fictional drama series set in Northern England and, earlier in the storyline, “Katy” had murdered her father. The sequences which featured “Katy” in the episode complained about were interspersed with sequences which dealt with a range of other storylines, and showed her consuming large amounts of sugar, and destroying her diabetes medication.

Complaint

[2] On behalf of Viewers for Television Excellence Inc. (VoTE), Gerald and Glenyss Barker complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the episode breached the standard dealing with children’s interests. They contended that children were put at risk by the episode which showed the suicide in what they described as “graphic terms”. They wrote:

… because of the very clear published evidence of the impact of the portrayal of suicide on films and TV on copycat suicides … this episode should not have been screened before the watershed time of 8.30pm.

[3] VoTE cited research which reported in regard to fictional formats:

… several studies have found dramatic effects of televised portrayals that have led to increased rates of suicide and suicide attempts using the same methods displayed in the shows.

[4] VoTE stated that the episode had contained what they considered to be “a very graphic portrayal of a teenage suicide”. It pointed to the “very real concerns” about copycat suicide among the young and noted that this issue had been raised in a programme broadcast on RNZ on the morning after the episode.

Standards

[5] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. It reads:

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

[6] TVNZ did not accept that the suicide had been presented in “very graphic terms”. The suicide storyline was dealt with in several sequences, some of which were separated by other plot developments, and was handled, TVNZ wrote, “in an appropriately restrained manner and was neither glamorised, nor exaggerated”. TVNZ commented that stories involving suicide were relatively common in literature, and noted that Romeo and Juliet, a standard text in school English classes, finished with a murder-suicide.

[7] With regard to the research that suggested publicity about suicide on television led to copycat incidents, TVNZ noted that most of the work dealt with factual reporting. It cited research which indicated that the impact of suicide sequences in fictional stories was much more equivocal.

[8] Nevertheless, TVNZ wrote:

… works of fiction which tell stories of people and relationships cannot be adequately told in any form if traumatic human events like suicide, murder, rape, teenage pregnancy and dishonesty are kept out of them.

[9] Moreover, TVNZ said, the item was classified PGR and the episode depicting the suicide was preceded by a specific warning, presented both visually and verbally, which reinforced the classification. TVNZ said that “Katy’s” suicide would not have come as a surprise to viewers given her recent emotional state.

[10] In view of the time of screening (7.30pm), the classification (PGR), and the warning about content, TVNZ maintained that it had taken children’s interests into account as required by Standard 9. It declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[11] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mrs Barker on behalf of VoTE referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She contended that the episode breached Standard 10 (violence) in addition to Standard 9 (children’s interests).

[12] Noting that the episode clearly showed the preparations carried out by the diabetic “Katy”, VoTE maintained that it would encourage copycat behaviour among young people and should not have been screened before 8.30pm. Children were watching television at 7.30pm, VoTE wrote, and should be protected from such scenes.

[13] VoTE insisted that it was “very graphic” and submitted that it should not have been broadcast before 8.30pm in view of the copycat impact of suicides shown on television. It cited a 1999 report from the Ministry of Health in New Zealand that referred to the copycat effect of suicides, particularly of entertainers and political celebrities. “Katy” from Coronation Street, it wrote, was such a celebrity.

[14] VoTE argued that the broadcast breached Standard 9 as the “realistically menacing or horrifying imagery” (guideline 9f) would have disturbed or alarmed children. A warning, it stated, did not allow the broadcast of AO material before 8.30pm. Referring to both the suicide and murder sequences, it wrote:

These types of violent scenes are completely unacceptable to show on television before 8.30pm. The programmes should have been re-scheduled. It was “Adult Viewing” and definitely not family viewing. The scenes were emotionally disturbing and the verbal and physical violence and adult themes were totally inappropriate for screening at the 7.30 to 8.30 slot, even with warnings.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[15] TVNZ pointed out that the initial complaint specifically identified Standard 9, and that there had been no reference to Standard 10 (violence). Accordingly, in view of the Authority’s statutory task to review the broadcaster’s decision, it should confine itself to Standard 9.

[16] Further, the referral had discussed the episode broadcast on 12 January 2006. TVNZ said VoTE had complained about that episode but had not referred to the Authority TVNZ’s decision declining to uphold the complaint. Now, it stated, VoTE “should not be allowed to piggyback on this complaint”.

[17] TVNZ did not wish to comment further on the referral of the complaint about the episode which included the suicide attempt.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[18] On behalf of VoTE, Mrs Barker said that the complaint focused on the episode portraying the suicide, and the alleged breach of Standard 9. The references to Standard 10 and to the earlier episode containing the murder were to show that the suicide was the culmination of a series of events.

[19] Focusing on Standard 9, VoTE contended that the episode contained realistically menacing or horrifying behaviour which would have been likely to disturb children. It maintained that it was “very irresponsible” to broadcast suicide scenes before the 8.30pm watershed as such material was unacceptable in family viewing times.

Authority's Determination

[20] 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.

[21] The Authority accepts that Standard 9 applies to this broadcast because it took place during children’s normally accepted viewing times. Nevertheless, it refers to a number of factors that indicate TVNZ took sufficient account of the interests of child viewers:

  • Coronation Street has an adult target audience and unaccompanied children would be unlikely to watch the programme
  • Coronation Street is one of the longest-running programmes on New Zealand television, and is well-recognised as being more suitable for a mature audience
  • the episode was appropriately rated PGR, and broadcast during the PGR timeband
  • the broadcast was preceded by a verbal and visual warning
  • the character’s attempted suicide was not “graphic”, as the complainant maintains, but was portrayed in a restrained manner
  • the story of attempted suicide was not portrayed in a single scene, but was interspersed throughout the entire episode, thus lessening the overall impact
  • in terms of the copycat suicide argument put forward by the complainant, the method of attempted suicide depicted was particular to diabetics and would have been unlikely to influence other young diabetics, who would already have been well aware of the dangers of consuming excess sugar and not taking their medication.

[22] The Authority considers that many child viewers would not have appreciated the significance of the character’s actions; the “Katy” sequences were initially oblique as to her suicidal intent. In any event, enough information was available to parents or caregivers to indicate that the programme would not be appropriate for unaccompanied child viewers and to reinforce the importance of parental guidance.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
28 June 2006

Appendix

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

  1. Viewers for Television Excellence Inc’s (Glenyss Barker, National Secretary) formal complaint –
    8 March 2006
  2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 10 April 2006
  3. VoTE’s referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 19 April 2006
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 27 April 2006
  5. VoTE’s final comment – 12 May 2006