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Hadfield and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-100–104

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor

Complainant

  • Elaine Hadfield of Blenheim

Dated

22nd August 2002

Number

2002-100–104

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaints
Promos – Mercy Peak x 3 – The Swap x 1 – Bad Girls x 1 – offensive language – classification – violence – two aspects of one complaint upheld by TVNZ – excessive violence and wrongly classified – reasons for promos advanced by TVNZ as informing and attracting viewers by using interesting and intriguing sequences

Findings
Standard 1 and Guideline 1a, Standard 7 and Guideline 7b, Standard 10 and Guideline 10c – five promos did not contain offensive language or offensive behaviour – no uphold; the four promos contained minimal violence and were not inappropriately classified – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Promos for Mercy Peak, The Swap and Bad Girls were broadcast by TVNZ at various times and on different days in April 2002.

[2] Elaine Hadfield complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that some nominated promos for the above programmes contained excessive violence, inappropriate sexual scenes and offensive language. Viewers were not able to avoid promos, she noted, and children in particular were affected by what they saw on television.

[3] In response, TVNZ upheld two aspects of one complaint as it ruled that one promo for Mercy Peak contained excessive violence and was inappropriately classified for the time of screening. It declined to uphold the offensive language aspect of that complaint and any aspect of the other four complaints.

[4] Dissatisfied with the TVNZ’s decision, Miss Hadfield referred her complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

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

Decision

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

The Programmes

[6] Ms Hadfield complained to TVNZ about the broadcast of some promos which she contended contained excessive violence, inappropriate sexual scenes and offensive language at times when children might be watching. She considered that television programmes which included these matters were responsible for much of the violence and offensive language in society.

[7] She referred specifically to three promos for Mercy Peak, and one for each of The Swap and Bad Girls.

The Standards

[8] TVNZ assessed the complaint under the following Standards and Guidelines in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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 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.

Guideline

7b  Broadcasters should ensure that all promos (including promos for news and current affairs) comply in content with the classification band in which they are shown. For example, promos for AO programmes shown outside Adults Only time must conform in content with the classification of the time-band in which they are broadcast.

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

10c  When compiling promos (trailers), broadcasters should be mindful that scenes containing incidents of violence or other explicit material which may be acceptable when seen in the total context of a programme may, when extracted and shown out of context for promotional purposes, be unacceptable in terms of both the standards and the time-band in question.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] TVNZ advanced the following reasons why promos are broadcast:

Primarily, of course, they are intended to inform viewers of programmes which are soon to be broadcast. While acknowledging your dislike for the programme, the promos for Mercy Peak draw attention to a series which is New Zealand made and has generally been well-received by viewers. Bad Girls and Six Feet Under are two major series from overseas to which the word ‘quality’ can fairly be attached.

It is also the purpose of promos to attract audiences to the programmes concerned. This is a competitive television environment and, in the same way that rival cinema chains will run trailers of their forthcoming attractions, so the television companies do the same. It follows then that those making the promos will select sequences which (hopefully without giving the story away) offer most interesting and intriguing situations, and very often feature the better known actors and characters.

[10] It then turned to the specific promos complained about.

[11] The first was the Mercy Peak promo screened at 6.52pm and 7.46pm on 10 April. On the basis that the promo packed "a lot of violent incidents into a very short time", TVNZ upheld the aspect of the complaint regarding excessive violence. It also agreed that it had been wrongly classified. However, although it acknowledged the complainant might be offended by the use of the word "Christ", TVNZ said it was a "commonly-used expression", and did not uphold that aspect.

[12] The promo for The Swap screened at 6.53pm on 11 April was the second assessed. TVNZ considered neither the action nor the language used was particularly disturbing, and declined to uphold the complaint.

[13] The third complaint dealt with a Mercy Peak promo screened at 9.02am and 7.50pm on 15 April. While accepting that the promo implied horror and mystery, TVNZ said it contained no explicit material and it did not accept that it could be described as "horrid". It declined to uphold the complaint.

[14] The promo for Bad Girls and Six Feet Under screened at 8.47pm on 22 April was then considered. Noting that the promo was screened during the AO time band, that the expression "what the hell!" was very mild, and that the promo consisted almost entirely of dialogue, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

[15] The Mercy Peak promo shown at 9.09pm on 22 April was the last one assessed. Noting that the promo was also screened during the AO time band, that the captions referring to "jealousy, adultery and revenge" pointed to the essential ingredients of much drama, and that the reference to "the dinner party from hell" was not sufficiently offensive to breach the standards, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

[16] In conclusion, TVNZ wrote:

In summary, the [complaints] committee has upheld your complaint concerning the promo for Mercy Peak broadcast on 10 April. The committee has asked me to apologise to you for the offence caused, and joining that apology is the Head of TV One’s Promotions Department. She has advised that, as a result of your complaint, she is undertaking a review of the department’s approach to the content of promos – especially those screened in the early evening. She is also re-examining present arrangements for classification and scheduling.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[17] Referring to promos generally, Miss Hadfield stated:

I object to having violence, offensive language, sexual content and other horrible things coming into my living room during advertising intervals within wholesome programmes including prime time. Too many people, children in particular, are being adversely affected by what they see and hear. (I turn TV or radio off if a swear word is used.)

The newspaper TV programme guide prints a ratings key in small print at the bottom of the list of programmes, but nothing warns us of the content of promos or advertisements.

[18] Miss Hadfield said that her complaint included other promos but she had not given details as she did not want to write about their content.

[19] She argued that only promos for "wholesome" programmes should be screened, and the other programmes could be listed only by name, as now sometimes occurred.

[20] Enclosing some newspaper clippings, Miss Hadfield concluded:

It is my belief that there is a connection between TV programmes and advertisements with violent, distasteful and stupid content, and recent horrible murders and other evil events in NZ. Many older people fear for the future for their grandchildren.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[21] TVNZ had nothing to add other than to note that, in her referral, Miss Hadfield was far more general then she had been in her letter of complaint.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[22] Observing that she was a retired nurse and that she considered that there were too many promos and programmes which were not helping the all round well-being of both young and old, Miss Hadfield expressed concern that many children and teenagers now watched television in their bedrooms without parental guidance. She said that she would like television to raise standards.

[23] In conclusion she again noted that viewers could choose to watch programmes "but we do not have a choice with promos."

The Authority’s Determination

[24] The first complaint, about a promo for Mercy Peak broadcast on 10 April, was upheld by TVNZ as inappropriately classified (Guideline 7b), and containing unacceptable violence (Guideline 10c). The Authority considers TVNZ’s rulings were appropriate.

[25] Miss Hadfield referred this promo to the Authority on the basis that it also contained offensive language. This was also an aspect of each of the five promos referred to the Authority, and it is a matter dealt with under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code. Standard 1 requires broadcasters to take into consideration current norms of decency in regard to both language and behaviour. The Authority observes that when it determines a complaint about whether a broadcast contravenes Standard 1 of the Television Code, it 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 to but not determinative as to whether the programme breached the Standard. Accordingly, in its determination of the Standard 1 aspect of the complaints, the Authority has considered the context of the promos complained about.

[26] While acknowledging that the use of the phrase "for Christ’s sake" in the Mercy Peak promo might be offensive to some, the Authority notes that it is not an uncommon phrase and was used in the promo as a vernacular expression which, it concludes, does not breach the standard.

[27] A promo for The Strip was broadcast during One News on 11 April. Having viewed the promo, the Authority considers that it did not breach the standards. It notes that it contained minimal violence and offensive language or behaviour and, it concludes, it was classified appropriately.

[28] The Authority reaches the same conclusion about the promo for Mercy Peak broadcast on 14 and 15 April. It notes that again there was minimal violence, and that it was trying to set the scene for viewers to be somewhat horrified. It declines to uphold the complaint.

[29] The complaint about the promo for Bad Girls broadcast on 22 April was combined with a promo for Six Feet Under. The Authority concludes that neither the language nor the behaviour nor the small amount of violence was inappropriately classified, and again it declines to uphold the complaint.

[30] The Mercy Peak promo screened on 22 April at 9.09pm portrayed the adult themes which were dealt with. The Authority considers that the standards were not transgressed.

[31] While the Authority has not upheld any aspect of the complaints which were referred, it notes that there appears to be a growing concern about promos among viewers. Viewers are often concerned that promos are broadcast unexpectedly. As a consequence they believe that they have little choice as to the material they view when it comes to the broadcast of promos.

[32] The Authority also notes that broadcasters seek to attract audience in a competitive environment, and they consider that the broadcast of high-paced promos is one way of whetting the appetite of viewers.

[33] Broadcasters must strive to balance their needs with those of viewers, and comply with their obligations under the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Specific obligations are set out in Standard 7, Guideline 7b, and Standard 10, Guideline 10c which the Authority expects broadcasters to comply with fully when broadcasting promos.

[34] Finally, the Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret 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 complaints.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
22 August 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Elaine Hadfield’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 26 April 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to Miss Hadfield – 14 May 2002
  3. Miss Hadfield’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 4 June 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 12 June 2002
  5. Miss Hadfield’s Final Comment – 28 June 2002