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Johnston and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-059

Members

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

Complainant

  • Alexander Johnston of Paraparaumu

Dated

27th May 2004

Number

2004-059

Programme

DNZ: Speed Thrills

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
DNZ: Speed Thrills – documentary included footage of young male drivers exceeding speed limit – allegedly encouraged law breaking and glamorised speeding

Findings
Standard 2 (law and order) and Guidelines 2a, 2b and 2c – did not glamorise, condone or encourage speeding – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] The programme DNZ: Speed Thrills was broadcast on TV One on 15 March 2004 at 8.35pm. It included footage of two young men driving at night in excess of the speed limit.

Complaint

[2] Alexander Johnston complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the young men were exceeding the speed limit by “considerable margins” and that TVNZ staff must have encouraged them to do so. Otherwise, Mr Johnston wrote, it would have been pointless to have installed cameras in their cars. Mr Johnston concluded that such “blatant law breaking” was inappropriate.

Standards

[3] TVNZ considered the complaint against Standard 2 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, and the relevant guidelines, which read:

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.

Guidelines

2a  Broadcasters must respect the principles of law which sustain our society.

2b  Factual programmes should not glamorise criminal activity or condone the actions of criminals.

2c  Programmes should not depict or describe techniques of crime in a manner which invites imitation.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] TVNZ explained DNZ: Speed Thrills as follows:

The documentary explored the argument that the number of young people who die in high speed road accidents can be linked to a New Zealand national trait which has produced a tendency towards risk-taking, illustrated by our adventurers and explorers, and in the activities of stunt men and motor racing drivers, not to speak of the adventure sport industry.

[5] TVNZ noted that the programme carried a very strong “speed kills” message. It included pictures of horribly mangled cars, captions which highlighted death tolls, crosses by the roadside, and interviews with grieving relatives of young drivers killed on the road.

[6] Because of the strong road safety message in DNZ: Speed Thrills, TVNZ advised Mr Johnston that the programme did not breach Guideline 2a by failing to “respect the principles of law which sustain our society”. The programme did not try to excuse the “young man and speed” phenomenon, TVNZ wrote.

[7] In relation to the particular sequences complained about, TVNZ wrote:

The [complaints] committee heard that the two young men were selected because they are frequent offenders, regularly stopped for driving at excessive speed. Before the filming began (it took six nights) the two were told that they were not to perform for the camera’s benefit, but that the camera was to be simply a “fly on the wall” recording whatever happened. The cameraman was under strict instructions not to encourage any fast driving or law breaking. As an extra precaution, the producer discussed what was planned for this sequence with the Land Transport Safety Authority, and other parties, and they reported they were comfortable with what the producer was trying to achieve.

[8] Under Guideline 2b, TVNZ considered that the speeding sequences were not glamorised, and under Guideline 2c, TVNZ did not consider that the scenes invited imitation. TVNZ concluded:

The sometimes fatal consequences of speeding were made clear, juxtaposed as they were with the “rite of passage” behaviour ascribed to the young drivers. Viewers were not encouraged to applaud or admire their behaviour; rather they were invited to consider why it happens.

Referral to the Authority

[9] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision on his complaint, Mr Johnston referred it to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Mr Johnston disputed TVNZ’s contention that the sequences complained about did not glamorise criminal activity. He wrote:

I cannot accept that TVNZ did not expect these young men to break the law and drive at excessive speed on camera. … The young men were clearly enjoying driving at high speed and seemed to think their actions were quite all right. No remorse was shown and the impression I gained was that they would continue to practise high speed driving. I consider many young people viewing the sequences would be encouraged to copy them.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[10] TVNZ advised the Authority that the programme invited viewers to consider why New Zealanders had a tendency to drive at excessive speeds, and used young male drivers to illustrate “the problem”.

Authority's Determination

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

[12] The Authority notes that the two young men in the sequences complained about were not encouraged to break the law. Rather, they were selected because they frequently did break the law. While the documentary makers might reasonably have expected that the young men might break the law by driving at excessive speeds, the Authority accepts TVNZ’s assurances that the documentary makers in no way encouraged such behaviour.

[13] The Authority agrees with TVNZ’s explanation that the documentary’s overall message was clearly that “speed kills”. In that context, the Authority does not accept that the speeding behaviour of the young men was glamorised or condoned, or that it promoted standards which were inconsistent with the maintenance of law and order.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
27 May 2004

Appendix

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

  1. Alexander Johnston’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 17 March 2004
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 1 April 2004
  3. Mr Johnston’s Referral to the Authority – 6 April 2004
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 16 April 2004