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Carapiet and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 2001-118

Members

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

Complainant

  • J Carapiet of Auckland

Dated

18th October 2001

Number

2001-118

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TV3 Network Services Ltd


Complaint
3 News – collapse of floor during wedding celebration in Jerusalem – amateur footage of moment of collapse – gratuitous and sensationalist – breach of good taste and decency

Findings
Standard G2 – footage a legitimate part of news item – not especially graphic – no uphold

Standard V12 – appropriate prior warning given – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

An item broadcast on 3 News on 26 May 2001 reported on a civil disaster in Israel, in which the floor of a building in Jerusalem had collapsed during a wedding party, killing 30 people and injuring hundreds more. The item featured amateur video footage from the wedding celebration, including the moment the floor collapsed. Viewers were warned that the coverage included shots from the video which were disturbing.

J Carapiet complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the broadcast breached standards of good taste and decency. He said it was "gratuitous and sensationalist" to have included footage of people in the final moments of their lives, and in the process of being killed by the floor collapsing under them.

TV3 declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of good taste, stating that nothing in the footage itself could be considered indecent or distasteful, and that a warning had been given regarding potentially disturbing content. Under standard V12, which requires broadcasters to consider a warning when broadcasting violent or distressing material, TV3 noted that a warning had been given, and that the footage had not been used in the opening or closing of the bulletin.

Dissatisfied with TV3’s response, Mr Carapiet referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

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

Decision

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.

The Programme

An item broadcast on 3 News on 26 May 2001 reported on a civil disaster in Israel, in which the floor of a building in Jerusalem had collapsed during a wedding party, killing 30 people and injuring hundreds more. The item featured amateur video footage from the wedding celebration, including the moment the floor collapsed. Viewers were warned that the coverage included shots from the video which were disturbing.

The Complaint

J Carapiet complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the broadcast breached the requirement in section 4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 that broadcasters maintain standards consistent with the observance of good taste and decency. He said it was "gratuitous and sensationalist" to have included footage of people in the final moments of their lives, and in the process of being killed by the floor collapsing under them.

Mr Carapiet complained that there was "no good rationale in terms of news or public interest" to have included the sequence. He believed its inclusion had been motivated by "sensationalism, in which voyeurism and the psychological power of horror inappropriately dominated over the broadcaster’s aims to impart information".

The complainant requested the broadcaster to review its process for making decisions on which news images of moments close to, or at, death were acceptable. The complainant also commented that an international broadcaster had not used the footage in its news coverage of the event.

The Standards

TV3 considered the complaint under standards G2 and V12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. In the preparation and presentation of programmes, standard G2 requires broadcasters:

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.

The other standard reads:

V12  The treatment in news, current affairs and documentary programmes of violent and distressing material calls for careful editorial discernment as to the extent of graphic detail carried. Should the use of violent and distressing material be considered relevant and essential to the proper understanding of the incident or event being portrayed, an appropriate prior warning must be considered.

Particular care must be taken with graphic material which portrays especially disturbing images, such as:

  • ill-treatment of people or animals

  • close-ups of dead and mutilated bodies of people or animals

  • views of people in extreme pain or distress, or at the moment of death

  • violence directed at children or children in distress

Material shown in late evening may be more graphic than that shown during general viewing times.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

In relation to standard G2, TV3 stated that nothing in the footage itself could be considered indecent or distasteful. While the broadcaster acknowledged that viewers would have found the footage disturbing, it said the producers of 3 News considered its inclusion important to viewers’ understanding of what had happened. In the context of a news item, where a warning had been given regarding potentially disturbing content, the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of good taste.

In assessing the complaint under standard V12, TV3 reiterated that inclusion of the footage had been considered important to a full understanding of the event. It noted that the footage did not include graphic detail such as close-ups of dead bodies, or views of people at the moment of death. Even so, it said, the producers had considered it appropriate to include some form of warning. The broadcaster pointed to the item’s introduction, in which the presenter said, "our coverage tonight includes shots from this [the amateur] video, which are disturbing".

Finally, TV3 observed that it was normal for footage from lead news stories of the day to be included in the opening and closing of the bulletin. On this occasion, however, the producers had decided not to include the footage. TV3 said:

Had the intention been to sensationalise, then these opportunities [to include the footage in the opening and closing of the bulletin] certainly existed. The Standards Committee is satisfied that 3 News covered this tragic event in a responsible and considered manner, while imparting as much information to viewers as possible.

The Referral to the Authority

Dissatisfied with TV3’s response, Mr Carapiet referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 . He said he had also complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about its coverage of the same news item on One News. TVNZ had upheld the complaint as a breach of standard V12, and Mr Carapiet said he was concerned that the broadcasters’ two different decisions indicated "inconsistency in standards being applied". He said although TV3’s response to him showed concern, it suggested to him that the broadcaster did not "recognise the seriousness of the breach of standards because they do not believe a breach occurred".

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

In its response to the Authority, TV3 noted that Mr Carapiet’s referral to the Authority related "almost exclusively" to Television New Zealand’s broadcast on One News, and appeared to suggest "some sort of comparison of the two decisions received by him". TV3 said:

Obviously each broadcaster’s coverage of the event, and each network’s response to the complaint lodged with them by Mr Carapiet, can only be considered in isolation.

TV3 said it remained satisfied that its coverage of the event had been responsible and considered, and that care had been taken not to breach broadcasting standards.

The Authority’s Determination

Before it considers whether or not the item broadcast on 3 News breached broadcasting standards, the Authority addresses the complainant’s concern that Television New Zealand Ltd and TV3 Network Services Ltd applied broadcasting standards inconsistently.

On 26 May 2001, both television broadcasters included items on their evening news bulletins about the disaster. Amateur video footage, including the moment the floor collapsed, was a key feature of the news coverage on both One News, broadcast by TVNZ, and 3 News, broadcast by TV3. However, the broadcasts differed in a number of respects, including that 3 News warned viewers that the footage was "disturbing", whereas there was no warning on One News.

TV3 declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of standard V12, principally because the coverage on 3 News included a warning. TVNZ upheld Mr Carapiet’s complaint that the item breached standard V12, on the basis that a prior warning should have been given. The Authority considers there is nothing inconsistent in the respective broadcasters’ application of standard V12. Each broadcaster was required to assess whether its broadcast breached the standard and, as the broadcasts differed, their different conclusions cannot be said to be inconsistent.

The Authority now considers whether the item broadcast on 3 News breached broadcasting standards. Turning first to assess the complaint under standard G2, the Authority records that when it considers a complaint alleging a breach of good taste and decency, it takes into account the context in which the item complained about occurs. The footage complained about formed part of a news item and, while disturbing in that it showed people in the moments before death, it was not especially graphic. The Authority accepts as valid TV3’s observation that the footage did not include close-ups of dead bodies, or views of people at the moment of death. In the Authority’s view, the footage formed a legitimate part of the news item and was not used gratuitously. The item was also preceded by a warning that it was disturbing. When it takes these contextual factors into account, the Authority is unable to conclude that the broadcast breached community norms of good taste and decency. It considers that to find a breach of standard G2 would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to place too great a limit on the broadcaster’s statutory right to freedom of expression in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Turning to standard V12, the Authority notes that the standard calls for "careful editorial discernment" when using violent or distressing material in news items. It also requires broadcasters to consider an "appropriate prior warning" when using violent or distressing material. In the Authority’s view, TV3 did all that could be expected of a responsible broadcaster in its treatment of this news item. As well as including an appropriate prior warning, the Authority notes that TV3 made a decision not to include the footage in the opening and closing of the bulletin. The Authority declines to uphold a breach of standard V12.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
18 October 2001

Appendix

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

  1. J Carapiet’s Formal Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 27 May 2001
  2. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 19 June 2001
  3. Mr Carapiet’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 24 June 2001
  4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 12 July 2001