BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Barker and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1997-187

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • J Withers
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • Glenyss A Barker
Number
1997-187
Programme
Shortland Street
Channel/Station
TV2

Summary

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

something unethical".

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

complaint.

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.

Decision

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

broadcasters:

            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

V16.

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

programmes.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
18 December 1997

Appendix

Mrs Barker's Complaint to Television New Zealand Limited – 14 September

1997

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

something unethical".

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

behaviour.

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

1997

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

children.