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Malone & Sadd and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-155

Members

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

Complainants

  • Russell Malone
  • DP Sadd

Dated

1st April 2015

Number

2014-155

Programme

ONE News

Channel/Station

TV ONE

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

Summary

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

An item on ONE News and a later ONE News update showed a highly-ranked New Zealand mixed martial artist's loss in an Ultimate Fighting Championship match, in which he was kicked and punched repeatedly in the head. The Authority declined to uphold two complaints that the footage was excessively violent because the level of physicality was not unexpected and acceptable in the context of a sport news story covering a fight.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Responsible Programming, Children's Interests, Violence


Introduction

[1]  An item on ONE News and a later ONE News update showed a highly-ranked New Zealand mixed martial artist's loss in an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) match, in which he was kicked and punched repeatedly in the head until the referee stopped the fight.

[2]  Russell Malone and DP Sadd complained that the footage was offensive and excessively violent to show during children's viewing times.

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

[4]  The ONE News item aired at 6.30pm on TV ONE on 16 November 2014. A ONE News update on the same night showed a shorter version of the footage at 7.37pm, during the nature programme Our Big Blue Backyard. The members of the Authority have viewed recordings of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the ONE News item breach broadcasting standards?

[5]  Mr Malone, who complained about the ONE News item under the good taste and decency, children's interest and violence standards, argued that the violence shown was unnecessary and 'potentially damaging'. He considered it offensive to label UFC a 'sport' and to include violence as 'entertainment' in the news, given there is enough 'real' violence reported on. Mr Malone said the item was not suitable to screen during prime time when children were watching.

[6]  TVNZ argued that the item carried public interest as the New Zealand fighter is highly-ranked in the sport. It did not consider that the footage would be 'disturbing or offensive to a significant number' of viewers and argued that parents are expected to exercise discretion during news programmes which frequently contain serious and potentially disturbing events. It said boxing and other contact sports are not warned for during the news and the footage was not repeated gratuitously.

[7]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 The children's interests standard (Standard 9) requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm. The purpose of the standard is to protect children from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.2 The violence standard (Standard 10) states that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

[8]  When we consider complaints under these standards, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:

  •  the item was broadcast during the 6pm news, within children's normally accepted viewing times
  •  ONE News is an unclassified news programme targeted at adults
  •  the item was not preceded by a warning
  •  audience expectations of news content, and in particular sport news content
  •  audience expectations of UFC and other contact or fighting sports.

[9]  The Authority has previously acknowledged that children are unlikely to watch the news unsupervised.3 Parents or caregivers who watch the early evening news with their children should expect that it often contains potentially disturbing events and images. This item was shown in the context of an unclassified sport news item, where boxing, rugby and other contact sports are frequently shown without warning. Even in the absence of a warning, the subject matter of the item gave viewers an indication that it may contain violent material, and the stronger content appeared halfway through the item, giving viewers an additional opportunity to exercise discretion. UFC is a sport where this level of physicality is expected and consented to by participants, and TVNZ maintained the fighting shown was consistent with the rules of the sport. The fight footage shown, although it may not be to the taste of some viewers, was newsworthy as it illustrated how a New Zealand fighter lost a World Title match. We do not think the inclusion of the footage was gratuitous or excessive in this context.

[10]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold Mr Malone's complaint that the ONE News item breached Standards 1, 9 and 10.

Did the ONE News update breach broadcasting standards?

[11]  DP Sadd, who complained about the update under the responsible programming, children's interests and violence standards, argued that the violence depicted was 'real and graphic' and that 'the potential for serious head injury and long term damage was not mentioned'. He referred to research showing that children viewing violence on television can lead to desensitisation and aggression and considered that a warning should have been given before the item.

[12]  TVNZ made similar arguments in response to DP Sadd's complaint (see paragraph [6]), in particular that the footage was important to the news story and that boxing and other combat sports are acceptable to screen in G and PGR time during news broadcasts. It maintained that Our Big Blue Backyard was not specifically aimed at child viewers and screened on a channel aimed at an older audience.

[13]  The children's interests and violence standards are set out at paragraph [7] above. The responsible programming standard (Standard 8) requires broadcasters to ensure that programmes are correctly classified and screened in the appropriate time-band.

[14]  Appendix 1 to the Code states that news programmes, which may be scheduled at any time, are not, because of their distinct nature, subject to censorship or to the strictures of the classification system. It does require producers to be mindful that children and young people may be among viewers of news programmes and to consider including warnings where appropriate.

[15]  We consider that our reasoning set out at paragraph [9] in relation to ONE News also applies to the later ONE News update. A small segment of the fight was shown as part of a brief summary of three 'top stories' that day. The footage demonstrated how a New Zealand fighter had been defeated in a World Title match; it was relatively brief and was not repeated. We do not agree with the complainant that showing brief footage of controlled violence in a sporting environment, in the context of an unclassified sport news story served to desensitise children to violence generally. It is expected that news programmes and news updates will often include somewhat challenging or disturbing content – for example, the first of the three 'top stories' covered was the death of three people in a house fire. Nor do we think that the inclusion of the brief footage in this context warranted a warning. As we have said in relation to ONE News, the subject matter of the report – a UFC World Title match – gave a fair indication that the item may contain footage of fighting. It is not unusual for fighting or combat sports to be included in the news during children's viewing times, without warning.

[16]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold DP Sadd's complaint that the ONE News update breached Standards 8, 9 and 10.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich

Chair

1 April 2015

 

Appendix

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

Russell Malone's complaint
1      Russell Malone's formal complaint – 17 November 2014
2      TVNZ's response to the complaint – 15 December 2014
3      Mr Malone's referral to the Authority – 15 December 2014
4      TVNZ's response to the Authority – 13 February 2015

DP Sadd's complaint
1      DP Sadd's formal complaint – 18 November 2014
2      TVNZ's response to the complaint – 15 December 2014
3      DP Sadd's referral to the Authority – 22 December 2014
4      TVNZ's response to the Authority – 13 February 2015

 

 


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

2For example, Harrison and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-066

3For example, Bracey and Ee and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-084