In a segment of Target which was broadcast on TV3 on 19 September 1999 beginning at 7.00pm, viewers were advised how to remove graffiti from a variety of surfaces when "little parliamentarians" had been naughty. The graffiti which was removed included a number of messages couched in schoolyard language such as "Jenny and Winston 4 eva", "Jenny © Timberlands", and "Jenny and Timberlands up a tree L.O.G.G.I.N.G."
Stephen Sheaf complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the messages contained in the graffiti phrases were both childish and totally inexcusable. Apart from what he called the obvious political overtones, they had contained "emotional smear tactics", he wrote.
The segment, TV3 advised, was a light-hearted piece which explained how common household products could be used to remove graffiti. The slogans, it noted, were derived from common children’s sayings, and were not political commentary. As it was clear that the segment was not a serious political debate where balance, impartiality and fairness would be required, it declined to uphold the complaint that it had breached standard G6 or any other standard.
Dissatisfied with TV3’s decision, Mr Sheaf referred the 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.
The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
Graffiti removal was the topic of a segment of Target which was broadcast on TV3 on 19 September 1999 beginning at 7.00pm. During the presenter’s demonstration, graffiti messages such as "Jenny and Winston 4 eva", "Jenny © Timberlands", "Jenny testing the opposition benches" (with a drawing of a woman sitting on a bench), and "Jenny and Timberlands up a tree L.O.G.G.I.N.G." were removed from various surfaces.
Stephen Sheaf complained to TV3 that the graffiti messages were both childish and totally inexcusable, and that the broadcast had breached standards G6 and G11(iv) of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards require broadcasters:
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
G11 To refrain from broadcasting any programme which, when considered as a whole:
(iv) Uses or involves the process known as "subliminal perception" or any other technique which attempts to convey information to the viewer by transmitting messages below or near the threshold of normal awareness.
Mr Sheaf complained that apart from what he called the very obvious political overtones, the messages had used emotional smear tactics.
TV3 assessed the complaint under the nominated standards. It noted that it was apparent that the slogans had been derived from common children’s sayings, and were not serious political commentary. It added:
The graffiti that the "naughty parliamentarians" caused was intended to be light-hearted and would, the Committee believes, have been accepted as such by the majority of viewers.
It maintained that it was clear that the segment was not a serious political debate where balance, impartiality and fairness would be required. In fact, it suggested, the graffiti was presented as something which was "a bit ‘naughty’ rather than anything which was factually based". It declined to uphold the complaint under standard G6.
Turning to the complaint under standard G11(iv), TV3 said it found nothing in the programme or in the segment complained about which used the process known as "subliminal perception", and declined to uphold this aspect.
When he referred the complaint to the Authority, Mr Sheaf said that he accepted that the slogans were children’s sayings, but that what he objected to was that they took a negative attitude to the government, and two of them were "anti Timberlands". He suggested that a more professional broadcasting approach by the broadcaster would have ensured that there was more balance shown. He said he was not prepared to accept the explanation offered by TV3.
Additionally, Mr Sheaf claimed that as the images had been "carefully framed but shown very briefly", an issue of subliminal perception was raised. He argued that if this was not a case approaching that threshold, then the standard was too rigid.
TV3 advised that it had no further comments to make.
The Authority begins with the observation that Target is a consumer affairs programme which at times uses a light-hearted style to provide advice and information on the rights of consumers. It includes brief segments which give general consumer information. On this occasion, the programme’s technical expert provided advice on how to remove crayon marks from walls and floors using readily available household products. He demonstrated on some "graffiti" which had been written using crayons. The complaint focuses on the words of the so-called graffiti, which the complainant suggests demonstrated that TV3 had a political slant which was anti-government. He described the messages as "childish and totally inexcusable" and asserted that because the messages were anti-government, the broadcaster failed to comply with the standard requiring balance.
The Authority is not convinced that the messages depicted required balance as contemplated under the standard. It is reinforced in its view when it notes that the focus of the item was their removal from various types of surfaces – and not the messages themselves. The sequence did not deal with a political matter, it notes, and the messages themselves were but an incidental aspect of the brief segment on stain removal. The Authority therefore concludes that there was no breach of standard G6.
Turning to the complaint that the item employed subliminal deception, the Authority finds the standard is inapplicable, as there is no evidence that any such techniques were employed to transmit any messages. It therefore declines to uphold this aspect.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
10 February 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered when the Authority determined this complaint:
1. Stephen Sheaf’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 22 September 1999
2. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 21 October 1999
3. Mr Sheaf’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 10 November 1999
4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 23 November 1999