Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item reported that a group of Australian teenage boys had filmed their attack of a teenage girl and were circulating the footage on DVD – showed some images of the boys’ attack – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, the maintenance of law and order, unfair, and in breach of children’s interests and the violence standard
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – subsumed under Standard 10
Standard 2 (Law and order) – nothing inconsistent with the maintenance of law and order – not upheld
Standard 6 (fairness) – not unfair to teenage girl or homeless man – not upheld
Standard 9 (children's interests) – item should have been preceded by a warning due to violent content – broadcaster did not consider the interests of children – upheld
Standard 10 (violence) – item should have been preceded by a warning due to violent content – upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 A One News item, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 25 October 2006, reported that a group of teenage boys in Australia had filmed their attack on an intellectually disabled teenage girl and were circulating DVD copies of the incident for $5 each. The item included portions of the DVD which showed the boys taunting the girl and setting fire to her hair. The girl, whose face was pixellated, was seen crawling on the ground. It also showed brief footage of the boys making a chlorine bomb and indistinct images which were described as “an attack on a homeless man with a flare”.
 Mr Roger Baldwin and Dr Janet Baldwin complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item breached Standards 1, 2, 6, 9 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. In terms of Standard 1 (good taste and decency), they noted that the item had not been preceded by a warning and had included a number of graphic images depicting violence and degradation. Mr and Dr Baldwin considered that the content was likely to disturb children and young people, and would provide an inappropriate example for them.
 In terms of Standard 2 (law and order), the complainants noted that the item showed illegal behaviour, and said that it was “not sufficiently balanced by comments from professionals such as psychologists or youth crime experts”. Looking at Standard 6 (fairness), the complainants argued that, although the victims were not identified, their portrayal in the item would have been humiliating.
 Mr and Dr Baldwin also contended that the item went far beyond accepted standards relating to children’s interests (Standard 9) as it included a number of images that would be disturbing and inappropriate for young people. Furthermore, they maintained that the length of the item and the number of incidents meant that the violence shown was gratuitous and could not be justified by the context (Standard 10). A more appropriate report, they said, would have simply contained a general verbal reference to the incident.
 The following standards from the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint:
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 6 Fairness
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
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.
Standard 10 Violence
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.
News, current affairs and factual programmes will, by their nature, often contain violent, disturbing or alarming material. Broadcasters should not falsify, by omission, a world in which much violence and brutality occurs. When such scenes are necessarily included to serve the public interest, the fact that violence has painful and bloody consequences should be made clear. However, editors and producers must use judgement and discretion in deciding the degree of graphic detail to be included in news programmes when children are likely to be watching. Warnings within news programmes must be used as appropriate.
In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.
 TVNZ contended that the subject of the news item was a matter of public interest given that it had occurred in a society so similar to New Zealand. It stated that the images had been carefully selected to exclude the most explicit material, but with the intention of “indicating the chilling demeanours” of the school boys.
 With reference to Standard 1 (good taste and decency), TVNZ acknowledged that the behaviour of the teenage boys was beyond any concept of good taste and decency. However, it said, the reporting of their actions did not indicate approval of it. In the broadcaster’s view, bringing their behaviour to the attention of the public was in accordance with good taste and decency.
 Looking at Standard 2 (law and order), the broadcaster maintained that it was in accordance with the principles of law that news organisations should draw the matter to the attention of the public. It did not believe that the extracts selected were likely to “invite imitation” (guideline 2c), and there was no suggestion that the boys’ behaviour was something to approve of or was glamorous.
 In TVNZ’s view, there was no unfairness in the item. It wrote:
To have minimised the distress of the teenage girl, or to suggest that her depiction on the DVD was less humiliating than it obviously was, would have been unfair to her and her father. It was not unfair to the schoolboys to show them in a poor light.
 Turning to consider Standard 9 (children’s interests), TVNZ asserted that viewers were thoroughly familiar with the content of news broadcasts, noting that news must “necessarily contain material which is inherently distressing or disturbing”. It also pointed out that news programmes were unclassified.
 The broadcaster contended that news programmes were not the first choice of all but the most mature of unattended children. It said it respected the rights of parents to choose whether their children were allowed to watch the news, knowing that it often contained distressing elements such as violent crime or scenes from war zones.
 With respect to Standard 10 (violence), the broadcaster agreed that the actions of the teenagers were violent and abusive, but it contended that reporting their actions was not. It did not accept that the story should have been reported without illustration as the boys’ behaviour could not otherwise have been adequately portrayed.
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, the complainants referred their complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. They maintained that the item had included an unnecessary number of violent images, contending that one short sequence would have been sufficient.
 Mr and Dr Baldwin agreed that news programmes regularly contained reports of crimes such as rapes or murders, but noted that they did not show them visually occurring.
 The broadcaster stressed that nothing in the item glamorised the behaviour of the teenage boys. On the contrary, it wrote, the reporter’s comments and those of the people interviewed for the item reflected “disgust and anger at the depravity of the incident”. It also pointed out that the victim had not been identified from the pictures, and, although her father had spoken over a voice-link, his name was not provided.
 On the issue of whether there should have been a warning, TVNZ noted that the item was broadcast at 6pm, by which time it had been in circulation in the New Zealand media for at least 12 hours. It was therefore reasonable to expect that most news watchers would have been aware of the story, it said, and would expect One News to carry a report.
 In their final comment, the complainants accepted TVNZ’s point that television was a visual medium and that graphic images were often shown on the news. However, they maintained that the images in the item complained about went beyond what was normally shown.
 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.
 The violence standard requires broadcasters to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. In the item complained about, although the images were at times grainy and indistinct, the Authority notes that the reporter’s voiceover described the cruelty and depravity that was occurring. It considers that the combination of the images and the reporter’s descriptions constituted “violent, disturbing or alarming” material as envisaged by guideline 10g to Standard 10.
 The Authority recognises that TVNZ had valid reasons for showing the footage because it was a legitimate news story that had generated widespread public interest. It also notes that the most disturbing of the images from the DVD, such as sexual abuse, were not described in detail or shown in the item.
 The Authority considers that the level of violence shown was not inappropriate for the early evening news. However, it is of the view that a warning should have preceded the item. It finds that the brief introduction would have left viewers unprepared for the level of violence contained in the images and commentary. Accordingly, the Authority finds that TVNZ failed to exercise sufficient care when dealing with the issue of violence on this occasion. It finds that Standard 10 was breached.
 Under Standard 9 (children’s interests), broadcasters are required to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times. Although news programmes are unclassified, the Free-to-Air Television Code requires broadcasters to be mindful that young people may be among the viewers of the early evening news.
 The Authority acknowledges that few children watch the news unattended. However, it considers that the level of violence in the item would have been likely to disturb child viewers, and there was no warning preceding this item that would have enabled parents to exercise discretion. In this respect, the Authority considers that TVNZ failed to consider the interests of child viewers, and it upholds the Standard 9 complaint.
 The complainants have argued that showing the images of the victims was unfair and humiliating, even though they were not identified. With respect to the teenage girl, the Authority finds that the broadcaster did not treat her unfairly. The focus of the item was the vicious assault that she had been subjected to, and the tone of the item was sympathetic towards her. The broadcaster also took steps to ensure that she could not be identified by viewers. Furthermore, the Authority considers that there was a public interest in seeing the level of violence involved in the attack.
 The Authority also concludes that the homeless man was not treated unfairly. Although the reporter said the boys had attacked “a homeless man with a flare”, the images were dark and indistinct. The Authority finds that, in the context of this item, one reference to an attack on an unidentifiable person was not unfair.
 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. 2006-051). In this case, the Authority finds that the item did not encourage viewers to break the law, nor did it glamorise or condone the criminal activity that was shown. Accordingly, the Authority finds no breach of Standard 2.
 In the Authority’s view, the complainants’ concerns about violence and the lack of warning in the item have already been adequately addressed in its consideration of Standard 10 above. Accordingly, it subsumes this part of the complaint into its consideration of the violence standard.
 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 has 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 an item on One News on 25 October 2006 breached Standards 9 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It does not intend to impose an order on this occasion. The Authority considers that its decision will act as a reminder to the broadcaster about using warnings to signpost challenging material in the early evening news, and it is of the view that the publication of its decision is sufficient in all the circumstances.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
22 February 2007
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Roger and Janet Baldwin’s formal complaint – 25 October 2006
2 TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 20 November 2006
3 Mr and Dr Baldwin’s referral to the Authority – 26 November 2006
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 14 December 2006
5 Mr and Dr Baldwin’s final comment – 11 January 2007