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Viewers for Television Excellence Inc and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-196

Members

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

Complainant

  • Viewers for Television Excellence Inc (VoTE) of Christchurch

Dated

21st December 2004

Number

2004-196

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Six Feet Under – promo – broadcast on two occasions at about 7.00pm – portrayed character being kidnapped in his funeral van and later assaulted, robbed and left in dark alley – allegedly unsuitable for children in view of violence

Findings
Standard 9 (children’s interests) and Guidelines 9a, 9e and 9f – PGR rated promo shown in G time – previously ruled unacceptable – upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] A promo for Six Feet Under was broadcast during One News, on two occasions, between 6.00–7.00pm on 27 and 28 September 2004.  Six Feet Under is an AO classified programme which screens at 9.40pm.

[2] The promo showed a male character, David, being kidnapped in his own funeral van, and later assaulted, robbed and left in a dark alley.

Complaint

[3] Glenyss Barker, secretary of Viewers for Television Excellence Inc. (VOTE) complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that scenes of the bloodied and distressed man apparently being forced to comply with violent theft was not suitable viewing for families.  Pointing out that the time bands contained in the broadcasting codes were designed to protect children from viewing such violence, VOTE argued that the promo should not have been broadcast before 8.30pm.  Screening the promos containing distressing and alarming scenes at about 7.00pm, VOTE wrote, breached the standard relating to the protection of children’s interests.

Standards

[4] TVNZ assessed the complaint against the standard and guidelines nominated by the complainant.  They read:

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.

Guidelines

9a  Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.

9e  Scenes and themes dealing with disturbing social and domestic friction or sequences in which people – especially children – or animals may be humiliated or badly treated, should be handled with care and sensitivity. All gratuitous material of this nature must be avoided and any scenes which are shown must pass the test of relevancy within the context of the programme. If thought likely to disturb children, the programme should be scheduled later in the evening.

9f  "Scary" themes are not necessarily unsuitable for older children, but care should be taken to ensure that realistically menacing or horrifying imagery is not included.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] TVNZ advised that it had assessed the complaint taking into account both the specific content of the promo, and the programme environment in which it was shown.

[6] As for the promo’s content, TVNZ contended that the violence was implied rather than explicitly shown, and that the emphasis was on the physical and psychological hurt rather than the blows.

[7] As for the environment, TVNZ pointed out that it was shown during a news and current affairs programme which attracted an adult audience rather than unattended children.

[8] TVNZ then explained that news and current affairs were not classified and, because of the nature of news, questioned whether it would have been surprising if the scenes in the promo were as distressing as the complainant alleged.  Arguing that children who watched the news did so in the company of parents who considered their children were mature enough to cope with real-life violence, TVNZ said that such children would not be “inconvenienced” by a promo for a fictional series during an advertising break.

[9] Turning to the specific standard, TVNZ argued that there was an absence of specific acts of violence which would disturb or alarm children.  Moreover, considering the news environment, TVNZ considered that the promo was unlikely to be disturbing, menacing or horrifying.  In declining to uphold the complaint, it wrote:

Looking at standard 9 overall, the [complaints] committee recognised that the placement of this trailer was confined largely to news and current affairs programmes and entertainment programmes rated PGR.  By excluding this programme trailer from programmes likely to attract children not accompanied by adults, the committee believed that TV One demonstrated that it had considered the interests of child viewers.

Referral to the Authority

[10] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Barker on behalf of VOTE referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[11] Noting that the promo could lead to a fear of helping others in distress, VOTE expressed concern that the promo could destroy the laudable New Zealand attitude of helping the underdog.  It maintained that the promo should not have been screened before the 8.30pm watershed.

[12] VOTE did not regard as significant TVNZ’s point that the violence was implied as the bloodied victim was portrayed.  The scenes contained in the promo, it contended, were realistic.

[13] In response to TVNZ’s assumption about the maturity of children who were allowed to watch the news, VOTE wrote in response:

… it is surely acceptable for us to make the assumption that parents assume the broadcasters are responsible people who care about children and realise the need for children to be protected from violent and unhealthy scenes that may affect children – even for a very long time.  A pity this assumption is also not true!

[14] Expressing the opinion that (in view of the increase in violence in society) it was time to take a closer look at what was shown to children, VOTE argued that TVNZ, by showing the promo at about 7.00pm on 27 and 28 September, had not been mindful of the interests of children.  It contended that promos, such as the one complained about, should not be screened before the 8.30pm watershed:

So that children have some protection from seeing items that are quite clearly unsuitable for their eyes and parents can trust more what is shown on television during the ‘water shed’ times.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[15] Pointing out that the standards accepted the broadcast of promos for AO programmes in other time bands, provided the promo’s classification complied with the time band during which it was screened, TVNZ said that the promo in question had been classified as “PGR plus News”. That meant it could be screened a few minutes before, or a few minutes after 7.00pm.

[16] TVNZ maintained that the promo was appropriate for screening during the news, as unattended children did not watch news as their first choice, and the children who did see the promo would have been in the company of adults.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[17] VOTE expressed its members’ concern that promos for AO programmes were broadcast at times other than AO times.  It also challenged TVNZ’s assumption that most children who had seen the promo would have done so in the company of adults.  Unattended children, it wrote, were entitled to protection and it argued that it should have been shown after 8.30pm as the horrifying scenes were likely to disturb children.

Authority's Determination

[18] 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.

[19] The classification of promos screened during the news hour broadcast between 6.00–7.00pm has been addressed in a number of determinations issued by the Authority recently (see Decision Nos: 2003-138/140, 2004-056/057 and 2004-058).   The broadcasters have argued that as the news is unclassified and, as the children who watch the news do so in the company of parents or caregivers, it is not inappropriate to screen PGR classified promos during that time.

[20] In response to the arguments advanced by TV3, the Authority wrote in Decision No: 2003-138/140:

The Authority accepts that 3 News is not classified and yet it is broadcast during the G time-band. However, the Authority does not accept TV3’s argument that the G time-band was “suspended” by the news programme and, therefore, the promos were shown in an “unclassified” time-band. In the Authority’s view, news programmes because of their nature, constitute the sole exception to the time-bands. The PGR definition is clear that PGR programmes, including promos, may not be screened between 4pm and 7pm. They do not get a “reprieve” from the time-band rules merely because they are screened during the news. The Authority considers that this view has been implicit in its determinations over the years.

[21] In determining the current complaint, the Authority considers first whether the PGR rating was appropriate in view of the content of the promo.  It notes that violence is the theme of the promo and while the display of realistic violence usually justifies an AO rating, it accepts that PGR was appropriate in this case because of the absence of any specific violent acts.  In accordance with its reasoning in Decision No: 2003-138/140, the Authority upholds this complaint. 

[22] The Authority acknowledges that TVNZ has taken some care by classifying the promo “PGR plus News” but, in view of its previous rulings, it expects children’s interests to be recognised by the absence of PGR rated promos broadcast before 7.00pm. 

[23] The Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 when exercising its powers under the Broadcasting Act on this occasion.  For the reasons given in this decision, in particular the promo’s PGR rating and its broadcast in contravention of the G time band, the Authority considers that the exercise of its powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the reasons above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of promos for Six Feet Under during One News on 27 and 28 September 2004 breached Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[24] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989.  In Decision No: 2004-058, the Authority wrote:

The Authority is aware that its view that the underlying time band for the early news hour is G time does not reflect current industry practice. The question of the classification of the material which screens within the early news hour is currently being discussed with the broadcasters. Therefore, the Authority considers that an order is not appropriate on this occasion.

[25] In view of the ongoing discussions, the Authority reaches a similar decision.  However, it points out that the responsibility for suggesting changes to the Code is presently in the broadcasters’ hands and action on this matter has been slow.  If the matter remains unresolved for any significant amount of time, the Authority signals that further complaints raising this issue which are upheld may have orders imposed. 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
18 February 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Viewers for Television Excellence Inc (Vote)’s formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd
    – 28 September 2004
  2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 27 October 2004
  3. VOTE’s referral to the Authority – 14 November 2004
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 3 December 2004
  5. VOTE’s final comment – 15 December 2004