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Turley and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-155, 2002-156

Members

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

Complainant

  • Pat Turley of Hastings

Dated

7th October 2002

Number

2002-155–156

Programme

Crimebusters

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Crimebusters – piss and shit – offensive language – associating faeces with stolen food – sensational – identified alleged thief who soiled himself – unfair –alleged shoplifter had been humiliated by advising that he had soiled himself – Standard 6 and Guideline 6f – upheld by broadcaster

Findings
(1) Standard 1 – colloquial – context – borderline – no uphold

(2) Action taken on Standard 6, Guideline 6f – action taken insufficient – uphold

Order
Broadcast of statement

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] An episode of Crimebusters looked at shoplifting and some security operations to catch shoplifters. One segment dealt with a man in a supermarket caught hiding two cans of ham in his trousers. It was reported that he had soiled himself when questioned by the shop’s security staff, and the evidence was found on the cans when they were recovered. A member of the shop’s security staff said that she had had "people piss themselves before but never shit themselves". The episode was screened on TV2 at 8.30pm on 11 June 2002.

[2] Pat Turley complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the language was offensive, that the item sensationalised the contamination of food by faeces, and that it had shown disrespect for the man by identifying him as an apparent thief who had soiled himself.

[3] In response, TVNZ upheld the aspect of the complaint that the fairness standard had been breached as the man had been unnecessarily humiliated in the item. However, it declined to uphold the other aspects on the basis that the language and the behaviour would not cause widespread offence.

[4] Dissatisfied first that TVNZ had not upheld the complaint in full, and second, with the action taken on the aspect upheld, Mr Turley referred the complaints 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 that the broadcast breached Standard 1. It upholds the complaint that the action taken by Television New Zealand Ltd, having upheld the Standard 6 complaint, was insufficient.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the programme 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 episode of Crimebusters looked at shoplifting and some security operations to catch shoplifters. One segment dealt with a man in a supermarket caught hiding two cans of ham in his trousers. It was reported that he had soiled himself when questioned by the shop’s security staff, and the evidence was found on the cans when they were recovered. A member of the shop’s security staff said that she had had "people piss themselves before but never shit themselves". The episode was screened on TV2 at 8.30pm on 11 June 2002.

The Complaint

[7] Pat Turley complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the language was offensive, that the item sensationalised the contamination of food by faeces, and that it had shown disrespect for the man by identifying him as an apparent thief who had soiled himself.

[8] Pointing out that the man appeared to be either intoxicated, in shock, or mentally impaired, Mr Turley considered that a broadcast apology was appropriate and, he wrote:

In any case, the disclosure of personal misfortune in these circumstances for the sake of entertainment is disgraceful broadcasting conduct and especially at such an early time of night. I caught this piece whilst momentarily channel surfing. I have two young daughters and both my wife and I were very surprised and offended.

The Standards

[9] As Mr Turley did not nominate any standards, TVNZ assessed the complaint against Standards 1 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They 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 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guideline

6f  Broadcasters should recognise the rights of individuals, and particularly children and young people, not to be exploited, humiliated or unnecessarily identified.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] TVNZ emphasised the point that the programme was highlighting shoplifting as a serious problem in the community. It noted that an earlier segment had profiled a man who boasted about his shoplifting skills, but added:

…the [complaints] committee believed that in reality programmes such as this, a point can be reached where the level of finger-pointing and ridicule directed at an individual becomes quite disproportionate to the crime allegedly committed.

[11] While noting that the man brought ignominy on himself through shoplifting, TVNZ considered that he did not deserve the public humiliation because he had soiled himself during interrogation. In view of the requirements in Guideline 6f, it upheld the complaint as a breach of Standard 6.

[12] TVNZ did not accept that the use of the word "shit" or the reference to the soiled tins breached Standard 1.

[13] In view of the aspect upheld, TVNZ advised that it intended to review its approach to reality programmes, and to remind producers of the requirements of Guideline 6f.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[14] Mr Turley said that while he was satisfied with TVNZ’s decision to uphold one aspect, he was dissatisfied both with the aspect not upheld, and with the action taken on the upheld aspect in terms of redress to the individual. Expressing concern that the broadcaster suffered no penalty, and that a person harmed received no redress, Mr Turley sought a public apology to the person who had been humiliated.

The Authority’s Determination

[15] When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Standard 1 of the Television Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the language 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 language complained about was broadcast.

[16] The Authority notes first the comment from Shannon, the store detective, when she said during the broadcast:

I’ve had people piss themselves before but not shit themselves.

[17] This comment was used both in the introduction to the item in an absence of context, and at the end when Shannon summed up her encounter with one specific man caught shoplifting.

[18] The Authority acknowledges that the language is coarse but the comment at the end of the item was made in a seemingly natural way by the person recounting her experience. However, it was not used in this way at the beginning of the broadcast at 8.00pm. The Authority is of the view that its use at the beginning of the item was close to being sufficiently offensive to amount to a breach of Standard 1. In making this observation, the Authority points to the paucity of mitigating contextual factors in the commencing segment of the programme.

[19] The Authority notes that TVNZ has upheld the complaint about the humiliation of the man who soiled himself as a breach of the requirement for fairness in Standard 6. The Authority agrees with TVNZ’s decision.

[20] The Authority considers this aspect of the broadcast amounts to a serious breach of Standard 6. It believes that a programme focusing on shoplifting had minimal justification to include the abject humiliation of the shoplifter portrayed. As TVNZ concluded:

… the offence in this item was generated through the disproportionate level of public ignominy heaped on the individual shown, and the resulting unfair and unjust assault on his dignity.

[21] Most of the comments included in the broadcast about this shoplifter focus on the fact that he had soiled himself. In view of the gratuitous nature of the comments, the Authority assessed the possibility that this part of the programme also breached the requirements for good taste and decency in Standard 1. It concludes, however, that the offensive nature of the item was appropriately dealt with when the Standard 6 aspect of the complaint was upheld.

[22] When it upheld the complaint, TVNZ advised that it intended to review the approach of reality programmes to individuals encountered, and that producers would be reminded of the requirements for fairness. Mr Turley considered that such action took insufficient account of the individual treated unfairly on this occasion.

[23] The Authority endorses the action taken by TVNZ but agrees with the complainant that, given the humiliation inflicted on the individual featured, the extent of the action has been insufficient.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority upholds the complaint that the action taken by Television New Zealand Ltd, having upheld an aspect of the complaint about Crimebusters broadcast on TV2 on 11 June 2002, was insufficient.

[23] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss. 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. In invited submissions from the parties.

[24] On the basis that its decision to uphold the complaint had been treated as significant by staff and the independent producers of reality programmes, TVNZ argued that an order was not appropriate. The action of its Complaints Committee in upholding the complaint, it added, had initially come as a surprise to some of those involved in the programme, and it noted that the Authority’s ruling reinforced the Complaints Committee’s decision.

[25] In view of what it described as the "constructive outcomes" of the complaints process which had already taken place, TVNZ maintained that an order would be inappropriate.

[26] Mr Turley argued that TVNZ should have had a robust quality assurance system in place to ensure that the programme had not been broadcast in the first place. He acknowledged TVNZ’s observation that he had did not have any connection with the man who had been humiliated, but added he was concerned that a relatively defenceless member of the community had been "taken advantage of".

[27] Mr Turley submitted that TVNZ should be required to broadcast a public apology which recognised that a person had been treated unfairly, but it would not include any footage which identified the man who had been humiliated. He also suggested an order for costs, preferably by way of a payment to the man featured in the item. He contended that TVNZ must hold or have access to sufficient information to trace the man referred to. If it was not possible to locate him, Mr Turley considered that the money should be paid to a charitable organisation which assisted the disadvantaged.

[28] Having taken the submissions into account, the Authority concludes that an order is appropriate. It agrees with Mr Turley that the broadcast indicates that TVNZ’s process to appraise programmes before they are broadcast was not adequate on this occasion. The Authority notes with approval that TVNZ has taken the complaint seriously.

[29] The Authority considers that the broadcast of a statement is the appropriate action. The statement would acknowledge that the broadcast was unfair to the man featured. The Authority is of the opinion that while the broadcast would refer to the episode of Crimebusters broadcast on 11 June, there should be no identifying particulars or footage of the man who was humiliated.

Order

Pursuant to section 13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders Television New Zealand Ltd to broadcast, within one month of the date of this decision, a statement explaining why the complaint was upheld as a breach of Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The statement shall be approved by the Authority and broadcast at a date and time to be approved by the Authority.

The Authority draws the broadcaster’s attention to the requirements in section 13(3)(b) of the Act for the broadcaster to give notice to the Authority of the manner in which the above order has been complied with.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
7 October 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Pat Turley’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 11 June 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 25 June 2002
  3. Mr Turley’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 24 July 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 30 July 2002
  5. Mr Turley’s Final Comment by telephone – 26 August 2002
  6. TVNZ’s Submission on Order – 17 September 2002
  7. Mr Turley’s Submission on Order – 24 September 2002