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All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Archibald and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-019

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Judith Archibald
Criminal Minds
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Criminal Minds – storyline involved kidnap of three teenage girls – kidnapper told girls that only two of them could leave alive, and they would have to kill the third girl – intended victim struck and killed the girl who was preparing to kill her – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   An episode of Criminal Minds, a fictional drama series about the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit, was broadcast at 8.30pm on TV One on Thursday 8 November 2007. The storyline involved the abduction of three teenage girls who were held captive in a cellar. Their abductor gave the girls an ultimatum: only two of the girls could leave the cellar alive, and they had to decide which of them would be killed. When the girls had reached a decision, it became apparent that they had to commit the murder themselves. Towards the end of the episode, the intended victim struck and killed the girl who was preparing to kill her.

[2]   The programme was preceded by a written and verbal warning which stated:

This programme is rated Adults Only. It contains scenes and material that may disturb or offend some people.


[3]   Judith Archibald made a formal complaint about the programme to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about the “despicable level of psychological torture resulting in the murder of a young girl”. She expressed concern that the storyline involving kidnap and murder could result in copy-cat crimes “of a horrific nature by someone looking for cheap thrills”.

[4]   The complainant argued that although the programme had been broadcast during “adult viewing time”, 8.30pm was “still early enough for a number of children to watch and impressionable teens to gain ideas”.


[5]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   TVNZ listed a number of contextual factors which it said were relevant to its consideration of whether Standard 1 (good taste and decency) was breached. It said that the programme was rated AO, broadcast at 8.30pm, and that the murder scene was not shown until 9.24pm. TVNZ contended that the murder scene was brief and inexplicit.

[7]   The broadcaster noted that the episode was preceded by a written and verbal warning which gave viewers “ample opportunity” to decide whether they wished to watch the disturbing scenes.

[8]   In TVNZ’s view, the Criminal Minds storyline was obviously a dramatisation. It said that very little violence was shown in the story, and the idea of kidnapping people and holding them captive was “unfortunately not an original idea”. The broadcaster disagreed that the programme encouraged copy-cat abduction and torture, arguing that the programme clearly showed this as an aberrant and illegal act.

[9]   TVNZ contended that viewers would be well aware that programmes such as Criminal Minds would show crimes in sufficient detail to allow the viewer to understand the reasons for the police case and how the criminal was caught. It wrote:

These types of programmes often show unusual crimes and there is considerable audience expectation of both the type of material likely to be shown and the themes of these types of programmes. Criminal Minds clearly portrayed the abduction and treatment of the young women as abnormal and illegal.

[10]   The broadcaster found that the programme would not have offended a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. It declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[11]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Archibald referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She stated that her concern was “not so much the kidnapping as the psychological aspect leading teenagers to commit a murder”. Using someone else to do a despicable act and the graphic portrayal of the psychological effects, she wrote, should not be shown on free-to-air television.

[12]   In the complainant’s view, the warning was not sufficient. She contended that teenagers would still be watching television at 9.24pm.

Authority's Determination

[13]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[14]   When the Authority determines a complaint alleging a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context in which the programme was broadcast. On this occasion, relevant contextual factors include:

  • the programme was broadcast at 8.30pm during the AO time-band

  • the programme was rated AO

  • a verbal and written warning preceded the programme

  • the expectations of regular viewers of Criminal Minds

  • the genre of the programme lent itself to challenging content.

[15]   The complainant’s main concern was the “psychological torture resulting in the murder of a young girl”. In the Authority’s view, this episode of Criminal Minds would have been consistent with the expectations of regular viewers. The series focused on the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit, and the episodes typically involved violent crimes and serial killers. The storyline of this episode was not unusual in that context. The Authority also notes that the programme contained very little actual violence.

[16]   Taking into account the contextual factors listed above, the Authority concludes that no breach of Standard 1 occurred.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
4 June 2008


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

1.           Judith Archibald’s formal complaint – 6 December 2007
2.           TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 16 January 2008
3.           Ms Archibald’s referral to the Authority – 20 February 2008
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 17 April 2008