Barker and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1997-187
- S R Maling (Chair)
- J Withers
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- Glenyss A Barker
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Mrs Barker complained to Television New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, of an
attempted murder of one character by another in an episode of Shortland Street
broadcast on TV2 beginning at 7.00pm on 1 September 1997. She claimed that the
events depicted were totally inappropriate for that viewing time when many young
viewers were watching. She contended that the inference from the portrayal was that
it was acceptable to attack people "if they stand in your way when you wish to do
In response, TVNZ noted that the programme was classified PGR, that the series was
fiction, and it referred to research which claimed children as young as eight could
differentiate between television drama and real life. It declined to uphold the
Dissatisfied with the broadcaster's decision, Mrs Barker referred the complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read
the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). On this occasion, the Authority
determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
An episode of Shortland Street, broadcast at 7.00pm on 1 September 1997, depicted
the attempted murder of one character by another. Mrs Barker complained that the
depiction was inappropriate for that viewing time, when many young viewers were
watching. She was concerned that young viewers would be influenced by the inference
that it was acceptable to attack people who stood in the way "when you wish to do
something unethical". She was also concerned that the depiction was in some respects
unrealistic, when viewers were "given to understand" that Shortland Street was meant
to reflect normal New Zealand life.
TVNZ assessed the complaint from Mrs Barker under standards G9, G12, V2, V6,
V11 and V16 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The first two require
G9 To take care in depicting items which explain the technique of crime in a
manner which invites imitation.
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during
their normally accepted viewing times.
The others read:
V2 When obviously designed for gratuitious use to achieve heightened impact
realistic violence – as distinct from farcical violence – must be avoided.
V6 Ingenious devices for and unfamiliar methods of inflicting pain, injury or
death, particularly if capable of easy imitation, must not be shown, except
in exceptional circumstances which are in the public interest.
V11 Any realistic portrayal of anti-social behaviour, including violent and
serious crime and the abuse of liquor and drugs, must not be shown in a
way that glamorises the activities.
V16 Broadcasters must be mindful of the effect any programme, including
trailers, may have on children during their generally accepted viewing
periods, usually up to 8.30pm, and avoid screening material which could
unnecessarily disturb or alarm children.
In response to the complaint, TVNZ explained that while the setting of the series
might have seemed familiar, the series was fiction. It denied that the depiction raised
the inference contended by the complainant, noting that the assailant had been
established as a "bad" character. The story lines in the series were that the bad
characters always suffered the consequences of their actions. There was nothing in the
portrayal, it said, which breached standards G9, V2, V6, or V11.
Noting that the programme had been classified "PGR", TVNZ advised that that
classification indicated that the programme was more suitable for adults, but not
necessarily unsuitable for children watching in adult company. Emphasising that it
was mindful of the effect of the programme on children by so rating it, TVNZ
indicated that adult viewers watching the programme in company with children would
be able to explain the difference between fact and fiction, and the moral niceties of the
behaviour portrayed. The broadcaster said that the incidents complained of would not
be disturbing or alarming to a child watching in company with an adult. Referring to
research that children as young as eight can differentiate between television drama as
an artificial construct and real life, and that children bring a clearly developed moral
sense to their viewing, TVNZ denied that the incidents breached standards G12 or
When she referred the complaint to the Authority, Mrs Barker complained that the
depiction in the episode was presented as "real" and that some of the incidents
surrounding it were not credible. She reiterated her concern that younger viewers
would have been influenced by it as representing a real-life situation.
Responding to the Authority, TVNZ emphasised that Shortland Street was a work of
fiction. The makers of the programme, it said, were mindful of the impact which it had
on young viewers. The broadcaster advised that several studies of the programme had
been undertaken. The most recent, which it attached to its response, had concluded
that children could distinguish between fact and fantasy on television and brought a
strong moral tone to their viewing of the series.
In her final comment, Mrs Barker reiterated that Shortland Street was portrayed as
real life. Questioning some of the broadcaster's responses, which had been based on
the research studies, she asked whether children could engage with the stories and
issues if they did not regard them as real life. She also emphasised the researcher's
finding that the force of the power of a story was not reduced for children by knowing
that it was fiction.
The Authority understands Mrs Barker's concern that the time lapse, within which
the depiction of the attempted murder took place, was not well presented.
Nevertheless the Authority is of the opinion that there were no aspects of the
depiction – the subject of the complaint – which threatened the nominated standards,
particularly in view of the programme's PGR classification.
The Authority notes the recent research which has been undertaken about Shortland
Street and the effects of the programme on its viewers. It commends broadcasters who
are sufficiently mindful of the effects of their programmes on their audiences – young
audiences in particular – that they encourage, support or develop such research
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
18 December 1997
Mrs Barker's Complaint to Television New Zealand Limited – 14 September
Glenyss A Barker of Christchurch complained to Television New Zealand Limited
that, during an episode of Shortland Street telecast at 7.00pm on 1 September 1997, "a
brutal attempted murder" of one character by another was depicted. She claimed that
the depiction was inappropriate for that viewing time when many young viewers were
watching. The complainant felt that the inference from the portrayal was that it was
acceptable to attack people "if they stand in your way when you wish to do
Mrs Barker also noted that the depiction was unrealistic, when viewers were "given to
understand that this programme is meant to reflect normal New Zealand life". She
concluded by expressing her concern at the effect of the programme on young viewers.
Mrs Barker's Further Complaint to TVNZ – 21 September 1997
The complainant advised TVNZ that her complaint was in relation to standards G9,
G12, V2, V6, V11 and V16 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint – 2 October 1997
TVNZ responded initially by noting that Shortland Street was classified PGR,
thereby indicating that the programme was more suitable for adults but not necessarily
unsuitable for children "watching in their company".
The broadcaster then noted that while the setting of the series might have seemed
familiar, the series was fiction. It had an essential level of conflict, and story-lines
which, while exaggerated, raised moral and ethical questions. The broadcaster also
emphasised that, as a serial, single episodes of it could not be looked at in isolation.
TVNZ denied that the episode raised the inference contended by the complainant.
Rather, it noted, the assailant had already been established as a "bad" character and
"as always in Shortland Street the 'bad' characters eventually are seen to suffer the
consequences of their actions".
The broadcaster felt there was nothing in the programme which infringed standard G9,
and that, in relation to standard G12, it was "mindful of the effect" of the programme
on children by rating it PGR. In the latter case, the broadcaster felt that adults
watching with children could explain the difference between fact and fiction and the
moral niceties of behaviour to their accompanying charges. Reference was made by
TVNZ to research indicating that:
... children as young as eight are clearly able to differentiate between television
drama as an artificial construct, and real life. Research [shows] that children
bring a clearly developed moral sense to their viewing, and are not simply
empty vessels waiting to be filled.
TVNZ dismissed the complaints under standards V2, V6 and V11 on the basis that
the scenes complained of did not depict gratuitous violence, did not use ingenious
devices or unfamiliar methods of inflicting injury, and did not glamorise anti-social
Commenting that standard V16 largely replicated standard G12, the broadcaster
reiterated its view that the incidents complained of would not be disturbing or
alarming to a child "watching the programme in the company of an adult".
Mrs Barker's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 19 October
Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Mrs Barker referred her complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
In her referral, Mrs Barker complained that the depiction of the attempted murder in
the episode was presented as "real", that some of the incidents presented were not
credible and that younger viewers in particular would have been influenced by the
depiction as representing a real-life situation. She commented on the appeal of the
series to younger viewers and wrote that:
television broadcasters have a responsibility to see that appropriate events
are shown at this time.
TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 28 October 1997
TVNZ emphasised that Shortland Street was a work of fiction and through fiction:
Matters such as time and space can, through the storyteller's skill, be
manipulated to enhance the quality of the tale and to place emphasis on the
messages the tale contains.
The broadcaster stressed that the makers of the programme were mindful of the
impact of "a social drama of this nature" on young viewers. It advised that several
studies of it had been undertaken, the most recent of which concluded that children,
by the age of eight, could distinguish between fact and fantasy on television. That
study, it was reported, indicated that children brought a strong moral tone to their
viewing of the programme. It claimed that the recent research supported earlier
findings that Shortland Street does little to:
... seriously challenge or change the values children learn from the primary
sources of their parents, their teachers and peers and through daily contact
with the world.
Mrs Barker's Final Comment – 3 November 1997
The complainant stressed that Shortland Street:
... is most definitely portrayed as real life. It has New Zealand actors (for a
NewZealand audience), New Zealand scenes and deals with situations that arise in
New Zealand ...'Shortland Street' is in the same category as 'Neighbours',
'Home and Away' and 'Coronation Street' ...viewers see these series as
depicting "real life" with everyday real life situations.
Mrs Barker challenged some of the responses of the broadcaster which had been based
on the recent Shortland Street research, a copy of which had been made available to
her by TVNZ. She questioned whether children could directly engage with the stories
and issues if they did not regard them as real life, and emphasised the researcher's
finding that knowing that a story is fiction does not reduce the force of its power to