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Lewis and Mediaworks TV Ltd - 2017-069 (16 November 2017)

Summary

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

An item on Newshub reported on the shooting of two Israeli police officers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. The segment featured footage of officers being chased and shot at, followed by footage of a man being surrounded and shot at, a blurred shot of a dead body on the ground and a body bag on a stretcher. The Authority upheld a complaint that the item breached the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards. The Authority recognised the public interest in the item and that it reported on important and newsworthy events. However, the Authority considered the item should have been preceded by a warning for the potentially disturbing violent content, to enable viewers to make an informed viewing decision, and allow an opportunity to exercise discretion.


Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests, Violence
Not Upheld: Law and Order
No Order


Introduction

[1]  An item on Newshub reported on the shooting of two Israeli police officers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. The item featured footage of officers being chased and shot at, followed by footage of a man being surrounded and shot at, a blurred shot of a dead body on the ground and a body bag on a stretcher being loaded into a van.

[2]  Rhys Lewis complained that the footage was ‘gratuitous’ and ‘morally indecent’, and that the absence of any audience advisory preceding this footage resulted in a clear breach of ‘New Zealand media norms’.

[3]  The issues raised in Mr Lewis’ complaint are whether the item breached the good taste and decency, children’s interests, violence and law and order standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code.

[4]  The item was broadcast during the 6pm news on 15 July 2017 on Three. 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 the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards?

[5]  Mr Lewis’ complaint raises similar issues under the children’s interests, good taste and decency and violence standards. As the same contextual factors and other considerations are relevant to our assessment of each of these three standards, we have addressed them together.

[6]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) aims to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress. Broadcasters should take effective steps to inform audiences of the nature of the programme, and enable viewers to regulate their own, and children’s, viewing behaviour.1

[7]  The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) states that broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. A ‘child’ is defined for the purposes of the Code as being aged 14 years or under.2

[8]  Broadcasters should also exercise care and discretion when portraying violence, and ensure that any violent content is appropriate to the context of the programme and classified carefully (Standard 4). In news, current affairs and factual programmes, where disturbing or alarming material is often shown to reflect a world in which violence occurs, the material should be justified in the public interest and an audience advisory should be used when appropriate.3

The parties’ submissions

[9]  Mr Lewis submitted that:

  • The public was shown ‘violent deaths’ without any warning.
  • Showing a person’s death is a breach of ‘current media norms’ and not in the public interest.
  • No editorial discretion was used; the clips in question should have been edited to remove the most violent content.

[10]  MediaWorks submitted that:

  • Newshub is a news programme that screens at a scheduled time each day and has an adult target audience. It is accepted by the Authority that unclassified news programmes are unlikely to be viewed by children unsupervised, on this basis these programmes can be expected to contain challenging material.
  • The footage of the shooting of the police officer was confronting but it did not include unacceptably graphic detail and was not prolonged. The footage was cut moments after the attack began, and the most graphic parts of the footage were not shown.
  • Footage of police shooting at the previously-subdued attacker was cut before the man was shown being killed.
  • Footage of the terrorists’ bodies was censored (it was blurred).
  • The broadcast did not include footage of the police officers’ bodies.
  • The segment covered a ‘serious and brazen terrorist attack at a site of great religious significance in Occupied East Jerusalem, which threatened to heighten tension between Israel and Palestine’.
  • There was a high level of public interest in the story and inclusion of the footage in question was important for viewers to gain a clear understanding of the nature of the attack.
  • The right balance was drawn between the right of the public to be informed and the possibility that some viewers may be upset or disturbed by this segment.
  • The footage used in the segment was not unacceptably challenging for inclusion in the 6pm news bulletin and did not go beyond what regular viewers of Newshub would expect to see with respect to coverage of a serious terrorist attack.

[11]  In response to the broadcaster’s comments, Mr Lewis submitted:

  • MediaWorks’ submissions did not address the substance of the complaint, namely ‘that what constituted the offence against decency was showing the committal of a murder’.
  • The actual killing was shown in the footage.
  • The casualness of the footage in the broadcast normalised killing and the broadcast of killing.
  • MediaWorks misunderstood the nature of the complaint: ‘it is not that the pictures were bloody – they weren’t – but that they were morally indecent. Children can be negatively affected by concepts as well as physical violence. I saw a man being killed – is that not indecent and disturbing in its meaning and nature, whether or not there was blood.’
  • Channel Three is not consistent with its use of audience advisories, which makes parental monitoring difficult.

Our analysis

[12]  The right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, is the starting point in our consideration of complaints. Our task is to weigh the value of the programme and the importance of the expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that may be caused by the broadcast, in terms of the underlying objectives of the relevant broadcasting standards. We may only interfere and limit the right to freedom of expression where the limitation on the right is reasonable and justified in a free and democratic society.4

[13]  When we consider a complaint under each of the nominated standards, the context of the broadcast is crucial, which in this case includes the following factors:

  • Newshub is an unclassified news programme screened at 6pm each weekday, during children’s normally accepted viewing times
  • Newshub is targeted at an adult audience
  • the nature of news programmes, which frequently contain strong or adult material such as crime or violence
  • the Authority recognises that, for this reason, news programmes are unlikely to be viewed by children unsupervised
  • the level of public interest in the broadcast
  • the item was not preceded by an audience advisory.

[14]  We accept there was public interest in this item, and in reporting on important and newsworthy events in East Jerusalem. Audiences should not be shielded from violent events, which unfortunately do take place, and the standards recognise that in news programmes disturbing or alarming material is often shown to reflect a world in which violence occurs.5

[15]  Nevertheless, the standards require that viewers are appropriately warned of potentially disturbing, alarming or graphic content.6 The approach the Authority takes is to require broadcasters to provide sufficient information about a programme to enable viewers to regulate their own, and their children's, viewing behaviour. Where broadcasters take effective steps to inform their audiences of the nature of their programmes, they are less likely to breach standards.7 We have reached the view that on this occasion, an audience advisory was required to alert viewers to the item’s violent content.

[16]  The footage included in the item, although it was partly edited, was challenging and depicted a high level of violence. The item contained shots of police officers being chased and shot at, a man being surrounded and shot at, a shot of a pixelated dead body lying in the street, and a covered body on a stretcher being loaded in a van. Additionally, some of the footage was accompanied by audio of gun shots.

[17]  We understand the complainant’s concerns that cumulatively this violent content had the potential to upset or disturb viewers. While the introduction to the item signposted to an extent the subject matter of the item, it did not adequately prepare viewers for the material that followed and we think an explicit warning was needed to alert viewers to the nature of the footage that would be shown. An audience advisory would have enabled parents and caregivers to make an informed choice about whether they should view the segment, and given them an opportunity to exercise discretion with regard to children’s viewing.

[18]  We have weighed the importance of the item and the importance of the right to freedom of expression against the potential harm to viewers that may have been caused by this broadcast, and have reached the view that upholding the complaint would be a reasonable and proportionate limit on the right to freedom of expression. As we have said we do not wish to undermine the value of the item and the public interest in the report, and we are not suggesting that the footage should not have been broadcast. We agree with the broadcaster that the inclusion of the footage was justified in the public interest. We are simply saying that the nature of the images warranted a specific warning for potentially disturbing content.

[19]  In these circumstances, we uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards.

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

[20]  Mr Lewis also submitted that the footage may contribute to the decision to commit violent acts and acts of terrorism in New Zealand, ‘such as are becoming common in Britain’, where people watching are ‘of a disturbed state of mind’.

[21]  The intent behind the law and order standard (Standard 5) is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity.8 The standard exists to ensure that broadcasters refrain from broadcasting material which does not respect the laws which sustain our society.9

[22]  The item subject to complaint was a factual report of events of public interest and geopolitical significance. We are satisfied that the item did not promote criminal behaviour, or encourage people to break the law, in this context.

[23]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the law and order standard.

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the segment of Newshub broadcast by MediaWorks TV Ltd on 15 July 2017 breached Standards 1, 3 and 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[24]  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. As we have said this broadcast carried public interest and we are not saying that it should not have been broadcast, only that an audience advisory was required to alert viewers to the item’s potentially disturbing content. We consider our decision provides sufficient guidance to broadcasters, and that no order is warranted in the circumstances.

 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
16 November 2017

 



Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1      Rhys Lewis’ formal complaint – 15 July 2017
2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 11 August 2017
3      Mr Lewis’ referral to the Authority – 7 September 2017
4      MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 22 September 2017

 


Guideline 1b to Standard 1 – Good Taste and Decency

2 Definitions, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9

Guideline 4d to Standard 4 – Violence

See sections 5 and 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and Introduction: Freedom of Expression, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6.

Guideline 4d to Standard 4 – Violence

6 See Guideline 1c to Standard 1 – Good Taste and Decency, Guideline 2d to Standard 2 – Programme Information, Guideline 3d to Standard 3 – Children’s Interests, and Guideline 4d to Standard 4 – Violence

7 Guideline 1b to Standard 1 – Good Taste and Decency

8 See, for example, Keane and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-082

9 Hunt and Māori Television, Decision No. 2009-010