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Blackley and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2012-059

Members

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

Complainant

  • Grant Blackley of Hastings

Dated

25th September 2012

Number

2012-059

Programme

Last Chance Dogs

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Last Chance Dogs – reality series about dogs with behavioural problems and their owners – episode showed three dogs being taken from their owner as they were not registered and were aggressive towards other dogs – allegedly in breach of law and order, controversial issues and responsible programming standards

Findings
Standard 2 (law and order) – programme did not encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity – focus was on dogs being removed from owner because they were not registered – not upheld

Standard 4 (controversial issues) – programme did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

Standard 8 (responsible programming) – standard not applicable – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  An episode of Last Chance Dogs, a reality television series about dogs with behavioural problems and their owners, was broadcast on TV2 on 16 April 2012. The episode followed three dogs which were taken from their owner by animal control officers because they were not registered and had been aggressive towards other dogs. At the end of the episode a “coming up” teaser was shown for the next episode, in which the programme’s resident dog trainer was attempting to train one of the three dogs, and the dog was shown attacking two dogs in a park.

[2]  Grant Blackley made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the dog trainer’s methods shown in the programme were “dangerous”, “outdated” and “frowned upon”. He also argued that the episode, and in particular the teaser, demonstrated breaches of dog control and animal welfare legislation.

[3]  The issue is whether the programme breached Standards 2 (law and order), 4 (controversial issues) and 8 (responsible programming) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the broadcast encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity?

[5]  The intent behind the law and order standard is to prevent broadcasts that encourage listeners to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity.1 The standard exists to ensure that broadcasters refrain from broadcasting material which does not respect the laws which sustain our society.2

[6]  Mr Blackley’s concerns relate to the dog trainer’s methods and alleged breaches of the Dog Control Act 1996 and the Animal Welfare Act 1999. He argued that the following aspects of the programme breached that legislation:

  • the dog being trained in the teaser was classified as “menacing” and therefore should not have been in public without a muzzle (section 33F, Dog Control Act)
  • the dog then attacked two other dogs (section 57, Dog Control Act)
  • the dog trainer’s methods were “dangerous” (Animal Welfare Act).

[7]  The Authority has previously stated that it cannot assume the role of a court and decide whether an offence has been committed, but will take a commonsense approach to whether the broadcast was contrary to the law and order standard.3 In any event, the code does not prohibit broadcasters merely filming or broadcasting illegal or criminal activity.4

[8]  Having viewed the programme, we are satisfied that it did not in any way promote lawlessness or glamorise criminal behaviour. The focus of the episode was the removal of three dogs from their owner due to his failure to register the animals. One of the dogs was shown in a brief teaser for the following episode being trained in a park, and attacking two other dogs. No attention was drawn to the fact the dog was not wearing a muzzle (if indeed it was required to wear one), and we accept that the programme producers and TVNZ were unaware that the dog had been classified as “menacing” until much later. The programme could not be considered to have encouraged viewers to act similarly or to break the law.

[9]  That the complainant disagrees with the training techniques employed by the resident dog trainer on Last Chance Dogs is not an issue of broadcasting standards, and it is not our role to determine whether those methods are contrary to the Animal Welfare Act. In any case, the programme contained a clear disclaimer, shown onscreen at the end of the episode, which advised viewers, “Techniques used in this programme can be dangerous if misinterpreted. Please seek help from a professional if you have concerns about an aggressive dog.”

[10]  Accordingly, we find that the programme did not encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal behaviour. Giving full weight to the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 2.

Did the programme discuss a controversial issue of public importance which required the presentation of significant viewpoints?

[11]  Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest. The balance standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.

[12]  Mr Blackley did not make any specific arguments in relation to Standard 4.

[13]  TVNZ argued that, while the issue of dangerous dogs might be a controversial issue of public importance, the programme was focused on one case of three badly behaved dogs. It did not consider that the dog trainer’s techniques were a controversial issue of public importance, though it accepted that not everyone would agree with the methods used.

[14]  In our view, the programme did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance which required the presentation of alternative viewpoints. Last Chance Dogs is a reality television series about dogs with behavioural problems and their owners, which features a resident dog trainer. This particular episode focused on one example of a case involving dangerous/aggressive dogs, and in particular on the removal of these dogs from their owner by animal control officers. The teaser at the end of the episode briefly showed the trainer working with one of the dogs.

[15]  The episode was clearly focused on one case, and did not extend to a discussion of wider issues regarding dangerous dogs or how they are handled, or the validity or otherwise of particular dog training techniques.

[16]  We therefore decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

Did the programme breach the responsible programming standard?

[17]  Standard 8 is primarily aimed at ensuring that programmes are correctly classified and screened in appropriate timeslots. Broadcasters must also ensure that programmes do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.

[18]  Mr Blackley argued that the programme was “totally irresponsible programming that encourages the uneducated public to try… outdated and cruel methods [used by the dog trainer]”.

[19]  In our view, the programme was appropriately classified PGR, meaning it was more suited for a mature audience, who would have the capability to form their own views about information gleaned from the programme. In addition, Last Chance Dogs included a clear disclaimer which discouraged people from adopting the techniques shown (see paragraph [9]), so viewers would not have been deceived or disadvantaged in the manner alleged.

[20]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 8.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
25 September 2012