Holmes – young people mimicking professional wrestling – impressionable people might copy – irresponsible item
Standard G12 – extensive warnings – no uphold
Standard V6 – cautionary tale – appropriate warnings – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
An item discussing a social problem in the United States involving young people mimicking professional wrestling stunts they saw on television was broadcast on Holmes at 7.00pm on 19 April 2001.
John and Barbara Maltby complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that impressionable young people in New Zealand might copy the graphic detail shown in the item. They considered that TVNZ had been irresponsible in screening the item.
In response, TVNZ noted that the item had been preceded by a lengthy warning and followed by a statement from the presenter urging young people not to follow the example set by some American youth. TVNZ said that it had nevertheless screened the item because the wrestling programme the young people imitated was being broadcast in New Zealand, and it considered that New Zealanders should be warned of the potential problems.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, the Maltbys referred the 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.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
An item on Holmes broadcast at 7.00pm on 19 April 2001 discussed how some young people in the United States were mimicking the stunts used by professional wrestlers in programmes screened on television. It reported that injuries were occurring as young people lacked the skills for the stunts.
John and Barbara Maltby noted that the item showed young people belting each other with planks of wood and that it was reported that there had been numerous serious injuries. As impressionable young people might be watching, the Maltbys complained that it was "totally irresponsible" to show such activities.
TVNZ assessed the complaint against standards V6 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The former reads:
V6 Ingenious devices for and unfamiliar methods of inflicting pain, injury and death, particularly if capable of easy imitation, must not be shown, except in exceptional circumstances which are in the public interest.
The latter requires broadcasters, in the preparation and presentation of programmes:
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.
TVNZ pointed out that the item had been preceded by a lengthy warning, which enabled parents to switch off the set, and it had been followed by a statement from the presenter urging young people not to follow the example of the American youths. It also noted that the same shows which were being imitated in the United States were also screened in New Zealand and, if similar behaviour occurred here, TVNZ could be criticised for knowing about, but not reporting, on the potential danger.
TVNZ added that since the item screened, it had been informed of similar activity in New Zealand which had involved injuries. It observed:
Television is not the only means of transmitting ideas across the sea.
In regard to standard V6, TVNZ maintained that there was "a significant public interest" in showing the material as professional wrestling on television had a large and enthusiastic following. It stated that the item had emphasised the dangers inherent in imitating choreographed stunt moves, adding:
While the scenes were graphic, they were also shown to be stupid and dangerous.
As for standard G12, TVNZ repeated that the item had been preceded with a warning, and added that the item amounted to a warning to young people not to imitate professional wrestling.
Arguing that broadcasters had an obligation to alert New Zealanders to potential dangers, TVNZ considered that neither standard had been breached.
When they referred their complaint to the Authority, the Maltbys maintained that TVNZ had been irresponsible in screening the item. They contended that the host had changed his attitude during the evening - from one of approval, when referring to a forthcoming item, to one which had involved a patronising warning when introducing the specific item.
In its report to the Authority, TVNZ noted that the original complaint had not referred to the comments earlier in the programme, and reiterated that the actual item was preceded and followed by warnings, neither of which were patronising.
In their final comment, the Maltbys said that TVNZ was "naïve" to assume that all children watching Holmes would be supervised. Further, they wrote, people not only imitated the actual show, but also imitated the imitators.
The complainants described the broadcast of the item as "totally irresponsible" when it showed the activities to impressionable young people. TVNZ argued that it had been mindful of the possible effect of the item on children by broadcasting a warning before the item, and by the inclusion of some comments after the item, when the presenter cautioned viewers about copying the behaviour shown because of the risk of "long lasting injuries". By the inclusion of this material, the Authority accepts that TVNZ was "mindful of the effect" the item might have on children and accordingly concludes that standard G12 was not breached.
Standard V6 warns against the description of unfamiliar methods of inflicting injury unless justified in the public interest. TVNZ argued that it was obliged to broadcast the item to show the impact of the television series which was being screened in New Zealand as well as in the United States. The Authority accepts the validity of this submission. In the Authority’s view, the item was a "cautionary tale" which was accompanied by the appropriate warnings. In these circumstances, it considers that standard V6 was not contravened.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
19 July 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint