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Millar and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-042

Members

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

Complainant

  • Kyle Millar of Christchurch

Dated

30th June 2005

Number

2005-042

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item on the death of a jockey resulting from a fall – item showed images of the fall – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, programme classification, children’s interests and violence

Findings
Standard 1 – news unclassified – images relevant to news item – not graphic – not upheld

Standard 7 – contextual factors – no warning required – not upheld

Standard 9 – news item – unclassified – not upheld

Standard 10 – tragic accident – violence standard not applicable – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] One News broadcast an item on 27 March 2005 at 6pm on TV One concerning the death of a young jockey resulting from his fall during a race. The item included images of the race from the Trackside channel, and showed the jockey falling from his horse and being dragged behind it.

Complaint

[2] Kyle Millar complained that the inclusion of the images was not relevant to the news of the preceding 24 hours. He saw no reason why the item was broadcast without a warning and “after the news cycle that included the event”. He also objected to the item being broadcast on a religious holiday (Easter Sunday).  

Standards

[3] Television New Zealand Ltd assessed the complaint under standards 1, 7, 9 and 10 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 the observance of good taste and decency.

Standard 7 Programme Classification

Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programmes are appropriately classified and adequately display programme classification information, and that time-bands are adhered to.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

and Television New Zealand Ltd

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] In its response to the complaint, TVNZ said that accidents in racing leading to the death of jockeys were “mercifully rare” in New Zealand. It noted that the accident at Riverton caused widespread distress in the racing industry, with race meetings stopped briefly around the country on Easter Monday so that race-goers could observe one minute’s silence out of respect for the victim.

[5] TVNZ wrote that because such accidents were rare, when they did occur they became significant news events. It considered that it would be a “sad commentary on our humanity” if the death of a jockey in such circumstances was considered to be of no interest to the public.

[6] TVNZ observed that the focus of the item was a tribute to the jockey. It stated that the item recorded his joy at posting his first two wins the previous week, and noted the high regard in which he was held by the stable that employed him. It considered that the pictures were not used gratuitously. Further, it contended that the images had already been shown live on Trackside, and were sufficiently distant for the jockey’s plight not to be obvious.

[7] TVNZ asserted that news editors were expected not to sanitise news events to the point that they no longer reflected the gravity of the events being described. While acknowledging that the pictures could be distressing, it argued that events which involve death and hurt occur regularly, and that news broadcasters act responsibly by “making the pain clear”. It cited suicide bombs in Iraq and tsunami victims in the recent Boxing Day disaster as examples of such events.

[8] TVNZ did not accept that there was anything inherently wrong with such an event being reported on a religious holiday. It pointed out that if there had been a major earthquake or road accident that day, the complainant could not have expected them to go unreported and would have gone to his regular news source for information.  

[9] Nor did TVNZ accept that the item was broadcast “after the news cycle that included the event”. It noted that the accident occurred on Saturday and the jockey died in hospital later that day. News of the jockey’s death did not come through in time for the editor of the Saturday evening news to prepare an appropriate item. TVNZ argued that the “news cycle” of this event lasted well into the next week.

[10] TVNZ said that in the context of the news item, the sequence showing the beginning of the accident was not a breach of Standard 1 (good taste and decency). 

[11] It considered that the item did not constitute a breach of Standard 7, noting that news items involving death and injury were regrettably, but necessarily, a part of daily news coverage. It maintained that attaching a caution to every item containing references to tragedy or distress would devalue the impact of warnings.

[12] In respect of Standard 9, TVNZ argued that news programmes were not classified in the same way as other programmes. It pointed out that news is not a G-rated programme and by its nature must regularly contain material of a distressing or alarming nature. TVNZ considered that while the accident was distressing, the pictures shown carried insufficient detail to justify a warning.

[13] TVNZ said that the accident was of sufficient importance to merit a place in the main news of the day. It considered the story was handled honestly, but with discretion in the choice of the images used.

[14] Finally, TVNZ argued that Standard 10 (violence) was not relevant in this case. It noted that this was a straightforward case of a tragic accident, and that the images were not explicit, prolonged or gratuitously repeated. It also observed that the only repeat of the recording was during a summary of the day’s headlines, which, it contended, was a normal and everyday procedure.

Referral to the Authority

[15] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Millar referred his complaint to the Authority. Mr Millar considered that TVNZ had missed his point. He noted that he did not object to TVNZ reporting on the death of the jockey, but rather on the use of the “graphic footage of his fall”.

[16] He stated that the issue of the live footage broadcast on the Trackside channel was not relevant to his complaint.

[17] The complainant disagreed with TVNZ’s claim that the pictures were not used gratuitously, and considered that showing them was not essential to the reporting of the death. He considered that TVNZ’s actions in replaying the item as part of its highlights summary almost amounted to “cynically wrapping some news around available footage.”

[18] Mr Millar also disagreed that the sequence shown was “sufficiently distant for the jockey’s plight not to be obvious”. He noted that the shot was a standard Trackside shot of the field, and, as such, did allow a clear appreciation of what was happening. He considered that the recording showed a “prolonged and fatal accident in which the plight of the individual was immediate and unobstructed.”

[19] He considered that TVNZ had conceded that the pictures were distressing, but still did not include a warning. He contended that even if the use of the recording itself was not a breach of broadcasting standards, the repeated use of it without a warning was. In closing, Mr Millar emphasised that it was not the reporting of the event which he found objectionable. Rather, it was the use of the recording and the manner of its use. 

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[20] In its response to the referral, the broadcaster emphasised that it did not consider that a warning was appropriate, as the recording was not graphic. It considered that a warning might have indicated that TVNZ was putting the comfort of its viewers ahead of the fate of the young jockey.

Authority's Determination

[21] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Good taste and decency

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

  • One News is unclassified and targeted at an adult audience
  • the images shown were not graphic
  • the inclusion of the images was relevant to the news item
  • the use of the images was not gratuitous
  • the images were discreet, and the camera went to a wide shot almost as soon as the fall took place.

[23] The Authority considers that it was not outside the bounds of good taste and decency to show the images of the jockey’s fall as part of the news item or in summarising the headlines of that day. Accordingly, the Standard 1 complaint is not upheld.

Programme Classification

[24] Guideline 7c to Standard 7 states that broadcasters should consider the use of warnings where content may offend or disturb a significant proportion of the audience. The Authority notes that images of tragic accident or events resulting in death may sometimes require the broadcast of a warning, particularly when those images may be considered unduly distressing or graphic. However, given the fleeting and discreet nature of the images on this occasion, it finds that a warning was not necessary. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint under Standard 7.

Children’s Interests

[25] Although the item was screened during children’s normally accepted viewing times, the Authority notes that it was part of a news and current affairs programme, and consequently was unclassified. Taking into account the contextual factors already listed, it considers that the item did not breach Standard 9.

Violence

[26] The Authority considers that Standard 10 (violence) is not applicable to the complaint. While the item contained images of a tragic accident, it was not “violence” as envisaged by Standard 10. Accordingly, it does not uphold this part of the complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
30 June 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Kyle Millar’s formal complaint to TVNZ –  31 March 2005
  2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint  – 19 April 2005
  3. Kyle Millar’s referral to the Authority – 10 May 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 19 May 2005