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Cochran and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2015-054

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose

Complainant

  • Margaret Cochran

Dated

10th November 2015

Number

2015-054

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

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

3 News reported on a gun attack on a Tunisian beach resort, and showed amateur video footage of the event. The footage contained images of people shouting and running around in confusion, and gunshots and bomb blasts could be heard. The footage also showed the gunman lying in the street after he had been shot dead by police. The Authority upheld a complaint that this footage was disturbing and should have been preceded by a warning. While recognizing the high public interest in the story and the footage, viewers were not given a reasonable opportunity to exercise discretion because they were not adequately warned of its nature. The Authority did not make any order.

Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Violence

No Order

 


Introduction

[1]  3 News reported on a gun attack on a Tunisian beach resort, and showed amateur video footage of the event taken by a staff member of the resort. The footage contained images of people shouting and running around in confusion, and gunshots and bomb blasts could be heard. The footage also showed the gunman lying in the street after he had been shot dead by police. The item was introduced as follows:

Tunisian authorities have arrested a number of people they say are linked to the gunman who killed at least 38 tourists on Friday. It comes as new video emerged showing locals and hotel workers chasing the attacker and trying to drive him away from fleeing holiday-makers.

[2]  Margaret Cochran complained that broadcasting the footage, particularly showing the gunman's dead body, was 'in bad taste and indecent'. She also considered that showing an 'unedited amateur video chase as a piece of horrific drama' was 'gratuitous', especially when shown without any kind of warning.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and violence standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item was broadcast during the 6pm news on 30 June 2015 on TV3. 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 item breach broadcasting standards?

[5]  When we consider complaints about good taste and decency and violence, context is vital, including the time of broadcast, the target audience and the warnings used (if any). Because the same considerations apply, we have assessed Standards 1 and 10 together.

[6]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 The Authority will also consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.2 The violence standard (Standard 10) states that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

[7]  Ms Cochran argued that the footage was 'unnecessary to show... in its entirety without sufficient news commentary', it depicted 'a live drama of horror' and 'incit[ed] copycat violence by vulnerable youth'. She considered it was 'gratuitous', especially when shown without any warning.

[8]  MediaWorks argued that the introduction to the item (see paragraph [1]) made it 'abundantly clear' that it would include video footage of a terrorist attack. It considered that 'viewers were given sufficient indication as to the nature of the story and were able to make an alternative viewing decision if they wished'. It argued that the inclusion of the gunman's dead body was 'of crucial importance' and thus was 'justified and not gratuitous'. MediaWorks also argued that although the item included a shot of a dead body, it 'did not show any violent acts or graphic footage of the gunman's victims'. It also noted that children were unlikely to be watching the news unsupervised.

[9]  We accept there was a high level of public interest in this report. Audiences should not be shielded from violent events, which unfortunately do take place. Nevertheless, the standards require that viewers are adequately warned of potentially disturbing, alarming or graphic content. The approach this Authority takes is to require broadcasters to provide sufficient information to enable viewers to regulate their own, and their children's, viewing behaviour.3 Guideline 10d to the violence standard recognises that disturbing and alarming material is often shown in news programmes, to reflect a world in which violence occurs, however the material should be justified in the public interest and warnings should be used when appropriate. Guideline 1b to the good taste and decency standard also says that the use of verbal warnings should be considered when content is likely to disturb or offend a significant number of viewers.

[10]  While recognising the importance of the item, we do not agree that the item's introduction adequately warned or prepared viewers for the material which followed. The introduction stated only that 'new video emerged showing locals and hotel workers chasing the attacker and trying to drive him away from fleeing holiday-makers'. There was no reference to the potential for the footage to be disturbing or distressing or to any need to exercise discretion – so we do not think that viewers would have been prompted to make a different viewing choice as the broadcaster alleged. There was mention only of 'video' and then the footage was left to play out for over a minute and a half without any commentary other than from the terrified person who took the video. It contained people running around in fear while gunshots and bomb blasts could be heard, the heavy and panicked breathing of the cameraman, a voiceover saying there were 'bodies everywhere' while showing empty beach chairs, and finally, the gunman's dead body lying in the street just after he had been shot. The cumulative effect of this material meant there was a real potential for viewers to find the footage distressing or upsetting, given they were not prepared for this level of content. We think in the circumstances an explicit warning was necessary.

[11]  We have weighed the importance of the item and of freedom of expression against the potential harm to viewers, and have reached the view that upholding the complaint would be a reasonable and proportionate limit on the right to freedom of expression. We are not saying that the footage should not have been broadcast; we agree that it was important to convey the reality of the event. We are saying however that such material must be adequately signposted for viewers, and this was not done here.

[12]  Therefore we uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency and violence standards.

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by MediaWorks TV Ltd of an item on 3 News on 30 June 2015 breached Standards 1 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[13]  Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. We do not intend to do so on this occasion. Our decision is sufficient to give guidance to broadcasters around the need for explicit warnings before violent news content which is likely to distress viewers.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich

Chair

10 November 2015

 

Appendix

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

1       Margaret Cochran's formal complaint – 30 June 2015

2       MediaWorks' response to the complaint – 22 July 2015

3       Ms Cochran's referral to the Authority – 30 July 2015

4       MediaWorks' response to the Authority – 24 August 2015

 


Turner and Television and New Zealand LtdDecision No. 2008-112

Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006) 

As above