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Pratt and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-120

Members

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

Complainant

  • Karen Pratt

Dated

30th September 2004

Number

2004-120

Programme

One News Update

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News Update – included images of abused Iraqi prisoners – pictures shown during general programming – allegedly unsuitable for children – failure to consider children’s viewing interests

Findings
Standard 9 (children’s interests) – interests of children considered – not upheld

Standard 10 (violence) – violent disturbing material not shown – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] One News Update is broadcast on TV One highlighting news stories of the day which usually then screen on the evening news programmes. On 8 May 2004 at approximately 4.55pm a One News Update broadcast images of tortured Iraqi prisoners.

Complaint

[2] Karen Pratt complained about the images shown of the Iraqi prisoners. She said:

I make a policy of not watching the news in front of my children as I feel the pictures are far too graphic and the content [is] often too disturbing for my 4 and 6 year olds.

[3] Mrs Pratt advised that having just finished watching a programme, the headlines appeared before she had time to switch off the television. She said her six-year-old had asked “why the man had a bag on his head?”

Standards

[4] In view of the matters raised by the complainant, TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 9 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The standards and relevant guidelines provide:

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.

Guideline 9h

In news breaks screened during programming specifically directed towards children, broadcasters should not normally use images or descriptions likely to alarm or disturb children, except in cases of public interest.

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.

Guideline 10g

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] TVNZ did not uphold the complaint. It noted that the two images shown had been previously screened by TV One, and that the images had also been widely depicted by other television organisations, as well as daily newspapers and news magazines. TVNZ contended that the images “gave the impression that humiliation was being inflicted, rather than showing it explicitly.” TVNZ further maintained that, of all the prisoner abuse images released, the two that were complained about “were among the least detailed.”

[6] In regard to Standard 9, TVNZ stated that neither the programme preceding the One News Update, nor the programme following it, were “directed specifically towards children.” It advised that programmes for children are screened on TV2, where news updates are not usually screened at all. The programme before the update, The Zoo, and the programme following, Rick Mears’ Extreme Survival, were both aimed at a general audience.

[7] TVNZ submitted that the images did not pose any risk to children, particularly as the images “had been in wide circulation for some time before this particular broadcast.” TVNZ also observed that the programme standards “do not envisage a situation where news information is denied to children.” In support of this, TVNZ referred to the preamble to the Television Code, which states that New Zealand is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 13 of the Convention, TVNZ advised, asserts the right of children to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.” TVNZ concluded that Standard 9 was not breached.

[8] With respect to Standard 10, TVNZ noted that guideline 10g states that in reference to news, “broadcasters should not falsify, by omission, a world in which much violence and brutality occurs.” TVNZ submitted that no one is well served if news events are “sanitised” such that they do not truthfully reflect what has been happening. While acknowledging that guideline 10g requires that warnings be used as appropriate, TVNZ maintained that a warning was not necessary as the images had previously been widely circulated, and the two images shown were among the least explicit images available. TVNZ concluded that Standard 10 was not breached.

Referral to the Authority

[9] Mrs Pratt maintained that the interests of children were not considered. She accepted that the programme screened immediately before the One News Update was for a general audience, but therefore felt it reasonable that a family would watch the programme. Mrs Pratt also disagreed with TVNZ’s contention that as the images had previously been widely depicted, they posed no risk to children. Mrs Pratt did not consider that viewers become “immune” to the images, nor did she accept that children regularly read newspapers or news magazines.

[10] With respect to Standard 10, Mrs Pratt considered that a breach had occurred. She maintained that coverage of the event “could have been done more subtly considering the programme screened prior to it.” Mrs Pratt contended that the children’s news updates on TV2 “never contain acts of violence – but instead items of a more quirky nature.” In her opinion, the screening of the images “is not exercising care and discretion.”

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[11] TVNZ expressed surprise at Mrs Pratt’s assertion that “children’s news updates screened on TV2 have not shown them.” It advised that TV2 does not broadcast children’s news updates.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[12] Mrs Pratt advised that she had “loosely” used the term “children’s news updates”, and was referring to a “news” broadcast that was shown at approximately 3pm which featured one item such as the birth of a lion cub. She explained that the reference was to illustrate her point that the footage of the Iraqi prisoners was unsuitable viewing material for children, because TVNZ had failed to “acknowledge the unsuitability of some news items for younger viewers.”

Authority's Determination

[13] 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.

[14] The Authority considers that the item did not breach the standards relating to violence or the requirement to consider the viewing interests of children. In reaching this decision, the Authority has considered the content and language used in One News Update. The item, in the context of widely publicised abuse allegations, referred to “shocking prisoner photos” and briefly showed two images. The item made no reference to the “abuse” or “torture” of the prisoners, and did not describe the acts in any detail.

[15] In the Authority’s view the images shown were restrained. The brief shots of two still photos in the item did not show actual physical violence being carried out, and were central to the issue being reported. Overall, given the brevity of the news item, the Authority considers that the broadcast did not include material likely to disturb or alarm children.

[16] The Authority acknowledges that the item was screened during children’s normally accepted viewing times. It notes TVNZ’s submission that the programmes preceding and following One News Update, were not “directed specifically towards children” but aimed at a general audience. In all the circumstances, the Authority concludes that children’s viewing interests were adequately considered by the broadcaster. Accordingly, the Authority finds no contravention of Standard 9.

[17] As to Standard 10, the Authority considers that there were no specific images of violence or injury likely to alarm younger viewers. Many would not understand the images and their meaning. In its view, the broadcaster exercised the requisite care and discretion for the reasons given above. Consequently, the Authority concludes that Standard 10 was not breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Tapu Misa
Member
30 September 2004

Appendix

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

  1. Karen Pratt’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 12 May 2004
  2. TVNZ’s Response to Mrs Pratt – 4 June 2004
  3. Mrs Pratt’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 20 June 2004
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 19 July 2004
  5. Mrs Pratt’s Final Comment – 10 August 2004