Amery and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2018-057 (10 October 2018)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Paula Rose
- Wendy Palmer
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Richard Amery
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an episode of Breakfast, in which the hosts and viewer feedback discussed people stealing at supermarket self-service checkouts by putting in the wrong code for items they are purchasing. The Authority found the programme did not actively encourage viewers to steal or break the law in breach of the law and order standard. Across the programme as a whole, the hosts and viewers offered a range of views on the ethics of stealing at self-checkouts, including strong views against such behaviour, and clearly acknowledged it was ‘theft’ and illegal. The tone of the discussion was consistent with audience expectations of Breakfast and its hosts, and would not have unduly offended or distressed viewers, so the good taste and decency standard was also not breached.
Not Upheld: Law and Order, Good Taste and Decency
 The Breakfast programme of 29 May 2018, broadcast on TVNZ 1, discussed stealing at supermarket self-service checkouts by putting in the wrong code for items they are purchasing. The discussion was prompted by a report that Australian and British supermarkets believe this activity is costing them ‘billions of dollars every year’ and that allegedly one in five people steal at self-checkouts in this way.
 Host Matt McLean admitted to putting in the wrong item codes at the self-checkout on ‘one or two’ occasions when he was younger. Throughout the remainder of the broadcast Mr McLean and the other hosts (Hayley Holt, Daniel Faitaua and Jack Tame) gave their opinions on Mr McLean’s behaviour and this behaviour generally, and invited and read out feedback from viewers. For example:
- ‘I’m too afraid to be caught [stealing from the self-checkout] and b) I’m a big believer in karma…’ (Ms Holt)
- ‘I’m not proud of it [stealing from the self-checkout] … and I wouldn’t do it again… I’m not for a second saying that’s what you should do and that it’s in any way right – it’s not right – but I’m sure that there’s so many people out there who just think…’ (Mr McLean)
- ‘I wouldn’t [do it]. I’m like you, Hayley. Often my boys are with me at the time and I know everyone’s in a rush, and you can see the temptation is there. But I just couldn’t do it. The cameras are there, the security cameras are there, there are staff walking around… and it is, you’re literally stealing from the supermarket.’ (Mr Faitaua)
- ‘Can I just put it out there I’m not looking for support. I’m not saying I’m proud of what I did and looking for people to back me up. I realise what I did was wrong. I’m just being honest this morning and saying I’m one of those one in five people who have put in the wrong code…’ (Mr McLean)
- ‘I disagree [with what Matt did] and I’m disappointed… we’ve known each other for 13 years, we love each other, you’re like an uncle to my boys… and now I’m just sitting here thinking, is that the kind of role model I want my boys to be around?’ (Mr Faitaua)
- ‘Matt is a thief.’ (viewer feedback)
- ‘What have we learnt from Breakfast this morning? Matty McLean is a thief, a multiple-time thief. I’m shocked, I’m horrified, but I’m not surprised.’ (viewer feedback)
 Richard Amery complained that the broadcast breached the law and order and good taste and decency standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, as by ‘laughing and joking’ about self-checkout theft the hosts were ‘actively promoting’ this behaviour. Mr Amery said that as ‘role models’ the hosts’ attitude would have encouraged viewers ‘to emulate them in this kind of criminal activity’. He said ‘Jack Tame in particular’ was responsible as he was ‘clearly suggesting that stealing was normal and everyone did it’.
 Mr Amery submitted the ‘whole segment of the programme on this subject’ needed to be seen ‘to get the full story in context’ and that the Facebook comments and emails to Breakfast about this broadcast also needed to be reviewed in order to determine the complaint.
 In assessing the complaint, the members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the relevant segments of the broadcast discussing this topic, and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
The broadcaster’s response
 In response to Mr Amery’s complaint TVNZ submitted that the standards raised were not breached for the following reasons:
- Breakfast is aimed at an adult audience.
- The discussion did not ‘glamorise crime’, condone criminal behaviour, or promote stealing.
- While Mr Tame asked viewers to send in feedback about whether they had entered the wrong codes at supermarket self-checkouts, noting that research showed that one in five customers do, the overarching commentary disapproved of the behaviour and recognised it as theft.
- ‘While the hosts acknowledged research which shows that this type of shop-lifting is very common, none of the discussion stated or inferred that stealing in this way was a good idea or should be copied.’
 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.1 The standard does not stop broadcasters discussing criminal behaviour or other law-breaking.2
 The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect the audience from material that is likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.
 When we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we first look at the right to freedom of expression, which is valued highly in New Zealand and enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. We weigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. This could be harm to an individual, or, as alleged in this case, harm to society or the audience generally.
 To assess the level of actual or potential harm caused by this broadcast, we have viewed eight relevant segments across the full broadcast. We are satisfied this is sufficient to enable us to determine Mr Amery’s complaint. It is not necessary for us to consider the surrounding feedback submitted through email and Facebook in order to make a finding on whether the programme content itself breached broadcasting standards.
 Taking the programme in its entirety we do not consider the broadcast actively encouraged listeners to break the law or promoted criminal behaviour. This broadcast featured numerous discussions about Mr McLean’s actions and using self-checkout machines to steal (save money) in general. However, the overall tone, while light-hearted, was one of condemnation and disapproval. None of the hosts encouraged or actively promoted stealing from supermarkets and it was clearly acknowledged by both the hosts and viewer feedback that this behaviour is illegal and amounts to theft (see quotes in paragraph  above). While the hosts did at times respond with laughter to viewers’ feedback, this was a reaction to viewers admitting sometimes absurd instances of passing off one food as another in order to save money, rather than an active encouragement to viewers to steal.
 Regarding the complainant’s assertion that Mr Tame ‘clearly suggest[ed] that stealing was normal and everyone did it’, therefore ‘encouraging anyone watching to do the same’, we consider Mr Tame was simply reporting the alleged high rate of self-checkout theft and promoting discussion among the other hosts and viewers on this topic. The kind of banter that the hosts engaged in for the remainder of the episode was consistent with audience expectations of the programme as a magazine-style breakfast show. It was unlikely to offend or distress viewers and did not threaten widely-held community norms of good taste and decency in the context.
 For these reasons, we are satisfied that the level of actual or potential harm alleged to have been caused by this broadcast does not justify restricting the broadcaster’s freedom of expression on this occasion. We therefore do not uphold the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
10 October 2018
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Richard Amery’s formal complaint – 29 May 2018
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 18 June 2018
3 Mr Amery’s referral to the Authority – 10 July 2018
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 31 August 2018
1 Commentary: Law and Order, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 15
2 As above