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de Villiers and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-021

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Alexander de Villiers
Number
2009-021
Programme
Breakfast
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast – host made statements regarding the death of convicted murderer Antonie Dixon – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and fairness standards 

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

Standard 6 (fairness) – Mr Dixon’s family did not take part in the item and were not referred to – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  During an item on Breakfast, broadcast on TV One at 8.42am on Thursday 5 February 2009, the programme’s presenters reported that convicted murderer Antonie Dixon had died in jail. The following exchange took place between the presenters:

          Host 1:     Now in news just to hand, we can confirm that Antonie Dixon is the prisoner who
                         has died at Paremoremo Prison.

          Host 2:    You would have heard us mentioning it throughout the morning and there was
                         speculation, it is confirmed, it is Antonie Dixon.  Who of course recently sat through
                         his second trial in relation to, this was the samurai sword case you will
                         remember, and the murder charge. So he has been found dead at Paremoremo Prison.

          Host 1:     We will bring you more details of that as they come to hand, but I can hear a chorus
                         of people saying ‘thank goodness’.

          Host 2:    News of course is on at midday, but also check out the website...

          Host 1:    Yes, I’d better go to a break now, because I’m about to join the chorus.      

Complaint

[2]   Alexander de Villiers made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging the programme breached standards relating to good taste and decency. In a second letter to the broadcaster, the complainant added that he also thought the programme breached Standard 6 (fairness).

[3]   The complainant stated that the host’s comments relating to the death of Mr Dixon were distasteful and indecent. He believed that the host should have shown more regard for the family of Mr Dixon, as the remarks might have deepened the trauma they were already facing.    

Standards

[4]   Mr de Villiers nominated Standards 1 and 6 and guidelines 1a and 6e of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

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.

Guideline1a
 
Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guideline 6e

Broadcasters should take particular care when dealing with distressing situations, and with grief and bereavement. Discretion and sensitivity are expected.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]   TVNZ stated that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. The broadcaster considered that the host was well-known for making off-the-cuff remarks such as the ones complained about and noted that he “frequently makes ad-lib comments that polarise the viewing public”.

[6]   TVNZ said that the good taste and decency standard was primarily aimed at broadcasts that contained sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. The broadcaster acknowledged that the host’s remarks “showed a lack of sensitivity towards the family of Antonie Dixon”, but believed that the comment would not have offended a significant number of viewers. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1.

Referral to the Authority

[7]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr de Villiers referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Broadcaster's Response to the Authority

[8]   TVNZ noted that it had not addressed the issue of fairness in its decision. It apologised and provided an assessment of Standard 6 in its response to the Authority.

[9]   With respect to fairness, the broadcaster argued that, while the host’s comments displayed a lack of sensitivity, they were brief and did not reach the threshold for a breach of Standard 6.   

Complainant’s Final Submission

[10]   Mr de Villiers reiterated his argument that the host’s comments were distasteful and said that the host needed to show some restraint when dealing with issues of death.

Authority's Determination

[11]   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.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[12]   When the Authority considers an alleged breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • Breakfast was broadcast between 6.30am and 9am
  • the programmehad an adult target audience
  • the expectations of regular viewers
  • Breakfast was an unclassified news and current affairs programme.

[13]   The Authority considers that, while insensitive, the host’s comments were off-the-cuff throwaway lines that lacked invective. The two brief remarks were not dwelt on.  

[14]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority concludes that the remarks did not threaten currently accepted norms of good taste and decency. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1.  

Standard 6 (fairness)

[15]   Standard 6 requires that broadcasters deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. On this occasion, the Authority notes that Mr Dixon’s family did not take part in the item and were not referred to at any time. Accordingly, the Authority finds that the fairness standard does not apply and it declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
10 June 2009

Appendix

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

1.          Mr de Villiers’ formal complaint to TVNZ – 5 February 2009
2.         Mr de Villers’ addition to his formal complaint – 16 February 2009
3.         TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 5 March 2009
4.         Mr de Villiers’ referral to the Authority – 10 March 2009
5.         TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 25 March 2009
6.         Mr de Villiers’ final submissions – 7 April 2009
7.         TVNZ’s final response – 21 April 2009