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de Boer and Māori Television - 2011-101

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainant

  • David de Boer of Wellington

Dated

18th October 2011

Number

2011-101

Programme

Hunting Aotearoa

Channel/Station

Māori Television

Broadcaster

Māori Television


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Hunting Aotearoa – included footage of dogs attacking pigs and child handling firearm – allegedly in breach of violence standard

Findings
Standard 10 (violence) – footage of dogs attacking pigs gruesome but a realistic and natural portrayal of hunting – would not have departed from audience expectations of a hunting programme screened at 9.30pm, classified AO and preceded by a warning for violence to animals – footage of a child handling a firearm was filmed in a controlled environment under adult supervision – broadcaster exercised adequate care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]  An episode of Hunting Aotearoa, a reality television programme about hunters, was broadcast on Māori Television at 9.30pm on Thursday 30 June 2011. The episode contained highlights from previous shows, including a number of scenes which showed dogs attacking wild pigs. It also included a scene which showed an adult place a rifle with a scope in a young boy’s hands before coaching him to aim and shoot it. When the boy successfully shot a wild deer from a far distance, the host exclaimed, “What a great shot! You’re the man. Too much buddy.” He asked, “How old are you son?” The boy said that he was nine and the host responded, “Well I reckon you’ve got the record on Hunting Aotearoa for being the youngest man to shoot a deer.”

[2]  The episode was preceded by the following verbal and written warning:

            The following has been rated Adults Only.

            It contains scenes of violence toward animals and language which may be offensive to
            some people.

            Viewer discretion is highly advised.

Complaint

[3]  David de Boer made a formal complaint to Māori Television, the broadcaster, alleging that the episode breached Standard 10.

[4]  The complainant asserted that the episode was a compilation of the “violent and cruel” parts of previous programmes, which was an “unacceptable viewing experience”. He argued that the episode was full of animal cruelty as “dogs were set upon [pigs] with the intent of maiming ahead of killing the animal. The maimed animals where then crudely slaughtered...Some dogs were also maimed in the process,” he said.

[5]  Mr de Boer argued that the episode also contained footage of adults providing young children with firearms, therefore encouraging and enabling them to shoot and “maim” animals.

Standards

[6]  Māori Television assessed the complaint under Standard 10 and guidelines 10a and 10b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 10 Violence

Broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

Guidelines

10a   Any violence shown should be justified in the context of screening and not be gratuitous.

10b   Broadcasters should be mindful of the cumulative effect of violent incidents and themes:

  • the impression that violence is dominating a single programme, a programme series, or a line-up of programmes screened back-to-back should be avoided.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[7]  Māori Television noted that Hunting Aotearoa focused on the real lives of people who hunted for survival and lived off the land. In this instance, it said that the episode was a compilation of all the shows in the series, was rated AO, screened at 9.30pm and was preceded by a warning for violence towards animals and strongly advising viewer discretion.

[8]  The broadcaster said that it had received assurances from the production company that the footage in the episode was consistent with hunting best practices and protocols, and that any children shown bearing firearms were supervised by a licensed gun owner. With regard to scenes showing dogs attacking pigs, or “bailing”, it contended that this was accepted hunting practice in New Zealand and overseas.

[9]  Māori Television considered that hunting was an “inherently violent” activity and that the content subject to complaint was therefore consistent with the programme’s context, rather than gratuitous (guideline 10a). In this respect, it considered that the episode would have accorded with the expectations of regular viewers, namely, those who were interested in hunting. It argued that violence did not dominate the episode, which primarily focused on the hunters and their personal stories (guideline 10b).

[10]  Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint.  

Referral to the Authority

[11]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr de Boer referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[12]  The complainant argued that Māori Television did not have the option of whether or not to uphold his complaint, because, in his view, that was the prerogative of the Authority. He considered that the broadcaster could “only respond in defence of my complaint and state the grounds of your defence”.

[13]  Mr de Boer argued that Māori Television’s submissions with regard to guidelines 10a and 10b were unacceptable when applied to the “gratuitous and cumulative” effect of the “highlights” show, which contained the “best of [animal] cruelty and violence”.

[14]  The complainant said that he was not concerned with whether or not children handling firearms were supervised by a licensed gun owner; his objection related to adults encouraging children to engage in violent acts against animals. He said that he was concerned “that other children will watch this stuff and think it is okay”.

[15]  Mr de Boer maintained that Standard 10 had been breached.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[16]  Māori Television asserted that it did have jurisdiction to decide whether or not to uphold complaints pursuant to section 7 of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[17]  The broadcaster reiterated its arguments with regard to the programme’s context, and stated, “The purpose of hunting is for pest control or capturing food, which in this sense is the reality of life displayed in this programme.” It said that the episode received the “special [internal] rating” of AO 9.30pm because it contained violence against animals, and carried a warning to that effect. In addition to the specific warning for violence to animals, viewers would have been “completely aware that when they watch a hunting programme they are going to view hunting and killing animal scenes”, it said.

[18]  Māori Television considered that Mr de Boer’s interpretation of the code would defeat the purpose of having a compilation episode at all, which had to compress the hunts of some of the previous 14 episodes into the 26-minute format. It accepted that this “resulted in more than the usual number of hunting action sequences being shown, however, the aggregate sequences came to 5 minutes in total. This equates to less than 20 percent of the show”, it said. The broadcaster referred to the Authority’s previous decision in Kelcher and Prime Television New Zealand Ltd,1 in which it found that a programme was dominated by violence. It argued that Hunting Aotearoa could be distinguished on the basis that 80 percent of the episode focused on the hunters’ personal anecdotes.

[19]  The broadcaster did not consider that the footage of children handling firearms was inconsistent with the episode’s internal AO 9.30pm classification. It reiterated that Hunting Aotearoa was a reality television programme, and asserted that “part of the reality (especially for Māori people from lower socioeconomic areas) is that children are taken for hunts by their parents”. It contended that, in screening the footage, it was in no way advocating that minors should “take up arms against animals”. Rather, it was “merely acknowledging and reflecting the reality that children are taken on occasion on hunting expeditions with parental supervision”, it said. The broadcaster maintained that the episode did not breach Standard 10.

Authority’s Determination

[20]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Preliminary Matter

[21]  The complainant argued that Māori Television did not have the option of whether or not to uphold his complaint and could “only respond in defence of my complaint and state the grounds of your defence”. We note that the Broadcasting Act 1989 makes it clear that broadcasters are required to determine complaints in the first instance, while the Authority’s role is to investigate and review the broadcaster’s action or decision.2

Standard 10 (violence)

[22]  Standard 10 provides that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. We accept that the content subject to complaint constituted “violence” for the purposes of the standard.

[23]  The complainant argued that the episode was full of animal cruelty, and with regard to the footage of a child bearing a firearm, that it encouraged children to engage in violent acts against animals. In this respect, we consider that the complainant’s concerns relate more to issues of animal cruelty and animal welfare, than to broadcasting standards. We note that the Authority has previously described the objective of Standard 10 in the following terms:3

...the violence standard exists to ensure that broadcasters use care and discretion to exclude unsuitable violent material and to promote the use of warnings where necessary to protect viewers – particularly child viewers.

[24]  We acknowledge that the footage of dogs attacking pigs, or “bailing”, was gruesome, graphic and dramatic and that some adult viewers would have found it unacceptable and offensive, as demonstrated by this complaint. However, our task is to determine whether the broadcaster exercised adequate care and discretion in dealing with the issue of violence so that viewers were properly advised of the likely content and able to make informed viewing choices.

[25]  In this respect, we note that the footage occurred in a hunting programme, titled Hunting Aotearoa, classified AO and restricted to screening after 9.30pm. The episode was preceded by a strong warning advising viewers that it contained violence to animals. We consider that viewers would have been aware that a programme about hunting broadcast in this context would include footage of killing and violence to animals.

[26]  In our view, the footage was not gratuitous or unexpected in this context, but was justified by the programme genre and the other contextual factors outlined above (guideline 10a). While non-hunters may have considered the footage repellent, to the programme’s target audience (hunting enthusiasts), it was simply a natural and realistic portrayal of hunting and its consequences. In addition, we consider that the footage of animals being killed carried an educational element, in the sense that it highlighted the reality that we live in a society which eats meat, and that living creatures must be killed in order for this to occur.

[27]  We consider that, while the episode was a compilation of some of the previous 14 episodes, it was not dominated by violence to animals (guideline 10b). We note that, in addition to providing insight into the practice of hunting by showing footage of hunters catching and killing wild game, the programme’s appeal was also attributable to its inclusion of local scenery and its focus on the personal experiences of the hunters.

[28]  With regard to the scene showing a child holding a firearm, we note that this was filmed in a controlled environment under the supervision of an adult who carefully and safely coached the boy to aim and shoot the rifle. We emphasise that the programme was not aimed at children, was broadcast at 9.30pm outside of children’s normally accepted viewing times, and was classified AO.

[29]  For these reasons, and paying particular regard to the programme’s 9.30pm screening time, AO classification and pre-broadcast warning for violence to animals, we are satisfied that the broadcaster exercised adequate care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint. 

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
18 October 2011

Appendix

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

1                  David de Boer’s formal complaint – 1 July 2011

2                 Māori Television’s response to the complaint – 25 July 2011

3                 Mr de Boer’s referral to the Authority – 4 August 2011

4                 Māori Television’s response to the Authority – 26 August 2011


1Decision No. 2003-018

2See sections 5 to 8 of the Broadcasting Act 1989

3E.g. Knight and TVWorks, Decision No. 2008-137