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Binnie and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 2003-092

Dated

28th August 2003

Number

2003-092

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TV3 Network Services Ltd


Complaint
3 News item on initiation ceremony at girl’s school – violence – offensive – not in public interest – unsuitable for children

Findings
Standard 1 and Guideline 1a – context – no uphold

Standard 2 and Guideline 2d – lawful standard maintained – no uphold

Standard 9 and Guideline 9a – interests of children considered – no uphold

Standard 10 and Guideline10a – violence justified in context of item – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] An item on 3 News broadcast by TV3 between 6.00–7.00pm on 8 May 2003, depicted a violent initiation ceremony, referred to as "hazing", at a girls’ school in the United States.

[2] Pat and Neil Binnie complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item contained a prolonged sequence of violent behaviour that was gratuitous in nature and totally unsuitable for public broadcast, particularly to children.

[3] In response, TV3 stated that the introduction to the item informed viewers that the subject matter was likely to be disturbing, and that the indistinct nature of the footage effectively blurred the precise nature of the violence. TV3 also argued that the broadcast labelled the initiation ceremony as wrong and was therefore educative, and in the public interest. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TV3’s decision, the Binnies referred their complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] An item on 3 News broadcast by TV3 on 8 May 2003, depicted a violent and brutal initiation ceremony, referred to as "hazing", at a girls’ high school in Chicago. The initiation involved ritual humiliation and frenzied beatings perpetrated by senior girls on the junior pupils.

The Complaint

[7] The Binnies complained on a number of grounds. In terms of Standard 1, the complainants said that the item was an affront to the senses, and that the behaviour of the senior girls in the item far exceeded their view of decency.

[8] It was the Binnies’ contention that the item demonstrated a practice which was readily capable of imitation and was not, in itself, in the public interest. In the complainants’ view the item breached Standard 2 of the Television Code.

[9] The Binnies maintained that the item was totally unsuitable for children to watch. They contended that for many, the item would have been frightening, and for others, practices such as "hazing" would have been normalised. They concluded that the item was not justified in the context of 3 News.

The Standards

[10] In view of the standards nominated by the complainants, TV3 assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 2, 9 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Standards and relevant Guidelines read:

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.

Guideline

1a  Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

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.

Guideline

2d  Ingenious devices for, and unfamiliar methods of, inflicting pain, injury or death, particularly if readily capable of easy imitation, should not be shown, except in exceptional circumstances which are in the public interest.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Guideline

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

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

10a  Broadcasters should ensure that any violence shown is not gratuitous and is justified by the context.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[11] TV3 stated that, taking into account the contextual factors, the majority of the viewers were unlikely to be distressed or offended by the item. TV3 declined to uphold a breach of Standard 1, and stated that the relevant contextual factors were:

1. News bulletins by their nature often contain violent, disturbing or alarming material. One function of a news service is to inform viewers of the world as it is …

2. [The] introduction informed viewers that the subject of the item was likely to be disturbing.

3. The indistinct nature of the footage … details of the injuries and the precise nature of what was happening was lost…

[12] TV3 also found that Standard 9 was not breached. It stated:

Part of the justification for screening this item was to bring light to a problem occurring in another country. It is not unlikely that similar incidents may occur in New Zealand. By showing child viewers that initiation ceremonies, particularly when they descend into violence, are wrong, the News item was acting specifically in the interests of any children in New Zealand who might take part in or be victim of such attacks.

[13] With regard to Standard 10, TV3 contended that the content of the broadcast, particularly when taking into account the context of the item and the blurred footage, was neither gratuitous nor unjustified. Accordingly, TV3 declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

[14] Turning to Standard 2, TV3 argued that the item neither showed nor demonstrated any ingenious devices or unfamiliar methods for beating a vulnerable victim. It also added that the blurring of the footage ensured that actual methods were not clearly visible. The broadcaster concluded that Standard 2 was not breached.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[15] As they were not satisfied with TV3’s decision, the Binnies asked the Authority to review the matter.

The Authority’s Determination

[16] When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Standard 1 of the Television Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breaches currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but does not determine whether the programme breached the standard. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context in which the news item complained about was broadcast.

[17] The Authority considers that the type of programme is a relevant contextual factor. It notes that news programmes, by necessity, sometimes broadcast events that may be considered unpleasant or disturbing. The Authority acknowledges that the news item complained about fell into this category, but considers that it was a legitimate news story which merited showing. The Authority accepts that as the item dealt with an issue of violence, in context, it was not gratuitous. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the good taste and decency aspect of the complaint. The Authority also notes that, contrary to TV3’s contention, it does not consider that the introduction to the item was an effective warning for the material shown.

[18] Standard 2 requires broadcasters to maintain standards consistent with the maintenance of law and order. In the Authority’s view, the item was not inconsistent with these principles. The Authority concludes that rather than encouraging offensive behaviour, the item was critical of such behaviour.

[19] The Authority acknowledges that the 3 News broadcast was screened during children’s normally accepted viewing times. However it notes that the news is not subject to the strictures of the classification system. While the Authority considers that the item complained about may have disturbed some viewers, it concludes that the unpleasantness of the item was insufficient to amount to a breach of Standard 9. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint under Standard 9 of the Television Code.

[20] In its consideration of Standard 10 of the Code, the Authority considers that the material broadcast was justified in the context of a news programme. The Authority concludes that the item can be regarded as a cautionary tale and, as such, it declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

[21] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
28 August 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Pat and Neil Binnie’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 18 May 2003
  2. TV3’s Response to the Complainants – 4 June 2003
  3. The Binnie’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 6 June 2003
  4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 16 June 2003