3 News – circus tigers escaped – footage of vet being shot dead by pursuers – no warning – graphic content – unsuitable for children
Standard G12 – unsuitable for broadcast without warning – majority uphold
Standard V12 warning required for disturbing images – majority uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Footage showing the capture and shooting of one of three Bengali tigers which had escaped from a circus in Warsaw was broadcast on 3 News on 15 March 2000 between 6.00-7.00pm. The item included footage of a veterinarian, who was trying to shoot the tiger with a tranquiliser gun, himself being accidentally shot and killed.
Gillean Parsonson complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd that it was "thoroughly irresponsible" to broadcast such graphically violent content in the early evening when children would be watching television. She noted that no warning had been given, and questioned whether there was any benefit to viewers watching an innocent man being shot dead.
In TV3’s view, the verbal summary which prefaced the item demonstrated that it was mindful of children, as it sufficed to alert "sensitive viewers and vigilant parents" about the upcoming content. It maintained that the footage was not graphic or gratuitous and argued that it was totally relevant to the events being portrayed. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TV3’s response, Mrs Parsonson referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, a majority of the Authority upholds the complaint that standards G12 and V12 were breached.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of 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.
A vet in Poland was shot dead in a botched attempt to recapture three escaped circus tigers, according to a report on 3 News broadcast on 15 March 2000 between 6.00-7.00pm. The man, who was attempting to shoot one of the tigers with a tranquiliser, was himself accidentally shot. He was shown falling to the ground and within minutes, the report continued, he was dead. The tiger was eventually killed, and the two other tigers were recaptured. The item concluded with footage showing the dead tiger being carried out of the woods where it had been killed.
Gillean Parsonson complained to TV3 that the item was "thoroughly irresponsible" due to its graphically violent content. In her view, the early evening was a totally inappropriate time to be showing such pictures, as children would have been watching television. She noted that no prior notice had been given to warn viewers of the unexpectedly violent and graphic content. She wrote:
I do not believe any member of the viewing audience benefited from watching an innocent man being shot dead, and question whether TV3 needed to show the pictures just because they had them.
Mrs Parsonson reported that her 3 year old daughter had been very upset, as had she, and suggested that this piece of footage had been used for shock value to entice the audience. She noted that the pictures had been shown as a highlight to the news later that evening.
TV3 advised that it had assessed the complaint under standards G12 and V12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Standard G12 requires broadcasters:
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing hours.
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:
i) ill-treatment of people or animals
ii) close-ups of dead and mutilated bodies of people or animals
iii) views of people in extreme pain or distress, or at the moment of death
iv) violence directed at children or children in distress
Material shown in the late evening may be more graphic than that shown during general viewing times.
In relation to the complaint under standard G12, TV3 responded that in its view, the verbal summary prior to the broadcast of the footage showing the man being shot should have been "sufficient to alert sensitive viewers and vigilant parents that what was to follow could potentially be upsetting." It said it found no breach of standard G12.
Applying standard V12, TV3 said its understanding was that this standard was intended to temper the distress viewers may feel when confronted with tragic images. It wrote:
The shots were at some distance from the events taking place and there was no attempt to show any close up of the dead vet. The only relatively close view of the tiger showed it being carried away on a frame.
TV3 concluded that the footage was not graphic or gratuitous in nature and that it was totally relevant to the event being portrayed. It declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
In her referral to the Authority, Mrs Parsonson emphasised that "the effect of this graphic scene was distressing to children." She contended that children were particularly disturbed by pictures of animals and people being killed, even if by accident.
Mrs Parsonson contended that standard V12 had been breached because there had been no warning that graphic pictures were going to be shown. She said that she had heard the presenter stating that the vet had been shot dead, but had not been prepared for the pictures which followed. She added:
…I totally disagree that "…the verbal summary…should have been sufficient to alert…vigilant parents…" as stated in the letter from [TV3] and in fact I find that comment totally obnoxious. It was not sufficient – there was no warning that pictures were going to be shown.
Mrs Parsonson maintained that the images of a person at the moment of death, and the close-up of a dead animal were violent and disturbing to children. Further, she noted that they had been shown during children’s viewing times and without an appropriate warning.
In its response to the Authority, TV3 clarified that it had not meant to suggest that the presenter’s verbal summary had included any warning concerning the pictures which followed. It noted that the summary had warned of the death of the vet in the attempt to recapture the tigers. In its opinion, viewers were adequately warned of the likely content of what was to follow. It was also of the view that the footage was not gratuitous or unnecessarily graphic in the context of a news bulletin.
The Authority is divided in its findings on this complaint.
Turning first to standard G12, it is the view of the majority that TV3 failed to demonstrate it was mindful of children when it decided to broadcast this footage in the early evening news hour without a warning. It does not agree with TV3 that its report that a man died in the attempt to recover the tiger sufficed to warn viewers that it would screen actual footage showing him being fatally shot and falling to the ground. Footage of the moment of actual death of a human being is rarely screened, it notes, and consequently it was not likely that viewers would expect to see it.
For the same reasons, the majority finds that standard V12 was breached. That standard contains a specific reference to violent and distressing material requiring an appropriate prior warning. In particular, the standard identifies such disturbing images as a person at the moment of death. It is the majority’s view that the broadcast of this footage constituted a clear breach of the standard, especially in the context of an early evening news bulletin, and bearing in mind the challenging content.
The minority disagrees. It considers that as the image was at some distance from the camera and there were no close-ups of the man, there was no breach of standard V12. That standard, the minority notes, relates to the extent of graphic material carried. Here, in its view, the detail was not sufficiently graphic to constitute a breach. As it finds no breach of this standard, it does not consider that standard G12 was threatened either.
For the reasons set forth above, a majority of the Authority upholds the complaint that TV3 Network Ltd’s broadcast of an item on 3 News on 15 March 2000 breached standards G12 and V12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose orders under s.13 and s.16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It decides on this occasion not to impose an order, on the basis that this was not a unanimous decision, and given that the footage, while disturbing, was not graphic.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
6 July 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Gillean Parsonson’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 17 March 2000
2. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 26 April 2000
3. Mrs Parsonson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 5 May 2000
4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 26 May 2000