Brock and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2015-077 (28 January 2016)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Paula Rose
- Lyndsay Brock
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
An episode of Shortland Street showed the death of a 14-year-old character, Pixie. Pixie had apparently been undergoing chemotherapy and was hospitalised for pneumonia. At the end of the episode, Pixie’s condition rapidly deteriorated and she died. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the item should have been preceded by a warning because children could have been disturbed and upset by the content. Shortland Street is rated PGR and frequently features adult themes. While the fictional depiction of a child’s death was potentially upsetting, it was not outside audience expectations and parents had an opportunity to exercise discretion.
Not Upheld: Responsible Programming, Children’s Interests
 An episode of Shortland Street showed the death of 14-year-old character Pixie. Pixie had apparently been undergoing chemotherapy and had contracted pneumonia. The episode showed her interactions with her family and boyfriend while she was in hospital being treated. Towards the end of the episode, Pixie’s condition rapidly deteriorated and the episode concluded with her death.
 Lyndsay Brock complained that there should have been a warning before the programme, as children could have been ‘disturbed or upset’ by the content.
 The issue is whether the broadcast breached the responsible programming and children’s interests standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The programme was broadcast at 7pm on TV2 on 19 August 2015. 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 broadcast breach broadcasting standards?
 The responsible programming standard (Standard 8) requires broadcasters to ensure that programmes are correctly classified and screened in the appropriate time-band. 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.1 Because the same factors are considered under both standards we have dealt with them together.
 Ms Brock complained that there was no warning to alert viewers about the ‘disturbing’ content. She said that the ‘death was shown minute-by-minute with no panning away to spare those who could be disturbed or upset by the content’. Ms Brock considered that this was ‘of special concern’ because it was the death of a child. She said the content was explicit because it ‘focused on [Pixie] during energetic resuscitation, then on her face during her last moments’. Ms Brock said that she did not ‘expect programme makers to avoid such storylines, but [did] expect them to ensure there [was] a warning when they could excessively disturb or alarm children’. She also argued that parents could not have effectively monitored the content, as the death was ‘unexpected’.
 TVNZ argued that the programme was ‘consistent with the expectations of the PGR certificate and viewer expectations’. It said the material was ‘emotional but not explicit’, and did not consider that a warning was necessary.
 Ms Brock’s primary concern is that the episode was not preceded by a warning. Guideline 8b to the responsible programming standard states that warnings should be considered when a programme is likely to offend or disturb a significant number of the intended audience.
 We agree with the complainant that the depiction of Pixie’s death had the potential to be upsetting for some viewers, particularly younger viewers. However we are satisfied that the episode did not go beyond Shortland Street’s PGR classification or the expectations of regular viewers. Taking into account relevant contextual factors we do not think it was likely to disturb or offend a significant number of the audience, or that any additional warning was necessary beyond the programme’s PGR rating, indicating ‘Parental Guidance Recommended’.
 The PGR classification is defined in Appendix 1 to the Code as ‘programmes containing material more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or an adult’. Shortland Street has screened in this 7pm PGR timeslot for many years and frequently contains adult themes. For example, in addition to the Pixie storyline, this particular episode included references to sexual activity and nudity, and one of the main characters becoming intoxicated.
 Pixie was shown from the outset in a hospital bed appearing very unwell, and the storyline that she had cancer had carried over a number of episodes. In these circumstances we do not think her death was unexpected or unduly shocking in the context of a long-running fictional hospital drama. A parent not wanting their children to be exposed to the depiction of a child suffering would have been on notice from the start of the episode, as well as by the PGR classification, that distressing material might follow, and could have made a different viewing choice after this was sign-posted.
 For these reasons we find that the broadcaster satisfied its obligations in relation to both responsible programming and children’s interests and we do not uphold the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
28 January 2016
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Lyndsay Brock’s formal complaint – 20 August 2015
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 17 September 2015
3 Ms Brock’s referral to the Authority – 18 September 2015
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 26 November 2015
1 E.g. Harrison and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-066