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Edwards and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-109

Members

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

Complainant

  • Colin Edwards of Parua Bay

Dated

5th February 2015

Number

2014-109

Programme

ONE News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision]

A ONE News item showed security footage of a violent attack on a liquor store worker by four men to assist police in identifying and apprehending the attackers. Two explicit warnings were given prior to the footage. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the violence shown was gratuitous. It was an important news story aimed at identifying and catching the attackers and was accompanied by clear warnings from the broadcaster.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Violence, Responsible Programming


Introduction

[1]  A ONE News item showed a violent attack on a liquor store worker by four men. The security footage showed the store worker being punched, kicked and dragged across the store, having a bottle of spirits smashed over his head and being kicked in the head as he lay on the ground. The newsreader explained that the footage was being shown to assist police in identifying and apprehending the attackers, and two clear warnings were given.

[2]  Colin Edwards complained that the extreme violence shown in the item was gratuitous.

[3]  The issue is whether the item breached the good taste and decency, violence and responsible programming standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item was broadcast during the 6pm news on 10 July 2014 on TV ONE. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the broadcast threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[5]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 Guideline 1a says that in considering this standard, the type of programme and the use of warnings will be relevant.

[6]  Mr Edwards argued that the 'repeated broadcasting of the extreme violence' and 'the amount of the attack shown' was gratuitous. Mr Edwards also argued that 'a warning does not justify the showing of unnecessary violence'.

[7]  TVNZ said the footage was not repeated, but was 'shown as a continuing action in the item so that viewers could understand what happened during the incident'. It noted the item was preceded by a warning which gave a 'precise outline of the nature of the material' so that viewers 'could make an informed choice about whether they wished to view the material or not'.

[8]  While we agree that the violence shown in the item was disturbing, we believe it was in the public interest to show the severity of the crime. The introduction to the item explained that a key purpose of showing the footage was to call on the public to help the police identify the four men. It also signposted for viewers that the subject matter of the item was a 'vicious beating', giving an indication of the likely content.

[9]  The two warnings given by the broadcaster were clear and explicit verbal warnings, proportionate to the level of violence about to be shown. The warning given at the start of the item stated, 'We begin tonight with a disturbing story that comes with a strong warning. It contains some graphic and violent pictures.' About halfway into the item, the reporter issued another warning: 'We must warn you, the violence gets even worse.'

[10]  Additionally, the violent footage did not start until 16 seconds after the first warning was given, allowing time for audience members to make a different viewing choice or exercise discretion with regard to their children's viewing.

[11]  We are satisfied that the broadcast did not threaten standards of good taste and decency in the context of an unclassified news programme targeted at adults, reporting a story of high public interest.

[12]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 1.

Did the broadcast breach the violence standard?

[13]  The violence standard (Standard 10) states that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

[14]  Mr Edwards argued that the issue 'was not that violence should not be shown, but that the escalation of the violence involving kicking the victim in the head was unacceptable and unnecessary. The later violence, the subject of my complaint, could not help identify the culprits as their faces by then were not visible.' Mr Edwards argued that the 'opportunity for copycat actions of extreme violence is a real worry'.

[15]  TVNZ argued that, as the item carried two clear warnings and a detailed introduction about the upcoming content, care and discretion had been exercised in screening the footage.

[16]  Guideline 10a to the violence standard states that any violence shown in a programme should be justified in the context of screening and not be gratuitous. Guideline 10d recognises that in news programmes 'disturbing or alarming material is often shown to reflect a world in which violence occurs', but it should be justified in the public interest and carry appropriate warnings.

[17]  In our view showing the full item, including the escalation of the violence, was justified in the public interest. There was high value in showing the dangerousness of the assailants and important identifying information such as clothing. Showing the full clip gave the audience more time to identify the men, and as already noted, two explicit warnings were given before the footage screened.2

[18]  We do not agree that showing the item would encourage copycat attacks, as the violence was not condoned or glamorised in any way. It was described as 'cowardly' and the item made the consequences clear, stating that 'when' caught the attackers 'would likely face a future behind bars'.

[19]  We are satisfied that the broadcaster exercised adequate care and discretion when dealing with violent material and we therefore decline to uphold the Standard 10 complaint.

Did the broadcast breach the responsible programming standard?

[20]  The responsible programming standard (Standard 8) is primarily concerned with ensuring that programmes are appropriately classified and scheduled appropriately. The use of warnings is also a relevant consideration under this standard (guideline 8a).

[21]  Mr Edwards argued that the time of broadcast was unacceptable, and it should have been aired later at night.

[22]  Appendix 1 to the Code recognises that due to their distinct nature, news programmes are unclassified and not subject to the strictures of the classification system. It goes on to note that producers should be mindful that young people may be viewing news programmes and warnings should be considered where appropriate. Guideline 10d, set out at paragraph [16] above, also emphasises public interest considerations and the importance of warnings where appropriate.

[23]  Important news stories focusing on disturbing or violent events should not have to be restricted to screening at a later time – particularly where they serve an important purpose, which in this case was to assist police in apprehending the attackers – so long as broadcasters exercise the appropriate level of care in presenting them. As we have already said, there was high public interest in this story, and the broadcaster acted diligently in broadcasting two strong warnings about the item's content.

[24]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
5 February 2015


Appendix

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

1     Colin Edwards' formal complaint – 15 July 2014
2     TVNZ's response to the complaint – 12 August 2014
3     Mr Edwards' referral to the Authority – 4 September 2014
4     TVNZ's response to the Authority – 14 November 2014
5     Mr Edwards' final comment – 18 November 2014

 

1Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112

2This decision can be distinguished from Warwick and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-089, in which a simple warning that footage of a man being shot dead at point blank range would be ‘disturbing’ was insufficient and therefore breached standards.