BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Duncan and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2005-106

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Colin Duncan
CanWest TVWorks Ltd
TV3 # 2

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
60 Minutes – footage of teenagers committing animal cruelty offences – images of hedgehogs and ducks subjected to cruelty – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, and children’s interests

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

Standard 9 – children’s interests – contextual factors, particularly warnings, were sufficient – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] TV3 broadcast an item on 25 July 2005 at 7.30pm entitled “God’s Creatures”, as part of the 60 Minutes current affairs programme. The item covered the recent arrest of two people in Huntly for animal cruelty. The item also dealt with the suggested link between animal cruelty and subsequent violent offences against people.

[2] The item reported that the teenagers had set fire to cages which had trapped two feral cats. It showed security camera footage of the teens arriving on their bikes, seeing the cats and returning with glue with which to set the cats on fire. The cats were not visible on the tape, although their screams were clearly audible. The item also showed images of animal cruelty that had been seized by Customs officers, relating to another incident.


[3] Colin Duncan complained to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item breached Standards 1 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. He specifically referred to Guidelines 1a and 1b, and 9a and 9e.

[4] Mr Duncan noted that a warning was given, but contended that broadcasting the inhumane treatment of animals in such detail was unnecessary and sensational. Mr Duncan considered that broadcasting such images encouraged others to carry out similar actions.


[5] CanWest assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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.


1a   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.

1b   Broadcasters should consider – and if appropriate require – the use of on-air visual and verbal warnings when programmes contain violent material, material of a sexual nature, coarse language or other content likely to disturb children or offend a significant number of adult viewers. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times, broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.


9a   Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.

9e   Scenes and themes dealing with disturbing social and domestic friction or sequences in which people – especially children – or animals may be humiliated or badly treated, should be handled with care and sensitivity. All gratuitous material of this nature must be avoided and any scenes which are shown must pass the test of relevancy within the context of the programme. If thought likely to disturb children, the programme should be scheduled later in the evening.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6] In its response to the complaint, CanWest stated that to breach Standard 1, broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it is shown.

[7] In respect of Standard 1, it noted the relevant contextual factors on this occasion were the time of broadcast at 7.30pm, the adult target audience of the programme, and the genre of the programme. Further, it noted the explicit verbal warning given at several stages throughout the item.

[8] It added 60 Minutes was a current affairs programme that screened at a scheduled time each week.

[9] The broadcaster contended that it was accepted by the Authority that news and current affairs programme screened prior to the 8.30 watershed were unlikely to be watched by unsupervised child viewers. It also noted that current affairs programming was unclassified.

[10] The broadcaster acknowledged that some aspects of the programme would have been distressing to viewers. However, it noted, repeated warnings were given before and during the item, clearly advising of the likely impact of the imagery.

[11] CanWest did not accept that the images were gratuitous or sensationalised in the context of this report. It considered that the item was in the public interest, and that it was difficult to convey the gravity of the offences being reported without including the footage.

[12] The broadcaster noted that another viewer contacted the SPCA in respect of the item. It quoted the response of the Chief Executive of the SPCA, Bob Kerridge, to that complaint:

While we all abhor the sight of violence in our society, and in particular cruelty to animals as was portrayed in this programme, it is sometimes necessary to expose the reality of the situation to bring it home to the public to whom we turn to take appropriate action to stop it happening. It is, in the case of TV3, ‘don’t shoot the messenger’.

[13] CanWest did not uphold the complaint as a breach of either Standard 1 or Standard 9.

Referral to the Authority

[14] Dissatisfied with the response from the broadcaster, Mr Duncan referred his complaint to the Authority under s8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[15] He did not accept that public scrutiny was helpful in resolving the problem of animal cruelty. He considered that the footage included in the item was gratuitous and sensationalist and would create the risk of copycat crimes.

[16] Mr Duncan asked the broadcaster whether there was any evidence of the beneficial effect of broadcasting such imagery. Further, he was concerned that broadcasters appeared to use warnings to permit the inclusion of graphic footage.

[17] Standard 9 suggested that gratuitous material “must be avoided” and “must pass the test of relevancy”, Mr Duncan wrote. He was of the view that the warnings seemed to “pave the way for exemptions”. He considered that the public could be made aware of anti-social behaviour without the need for such imagery being broadcast.

Authority's Determination

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

[19] When the Authority determines a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. The contextual factors the Authority takes into account on this occasion include:

  • the public importance of the item under discussion
  • the time of the broadcast at 7.30pm, during the PGR timeband
  • the adult target audience of the programme
  • the verbal warnings preceding both the item and certain footage throughout the item.

[20] The Authority acknowledges that the subject matter of the programme was distasteful and would have been distressing to some viewers. However, sufficient warnings were given to signpost the fact that the footage to be screened was going to be challenging, and was likely to upset some people; viewers were able to make an informed choice whether or not to watch.

[21] Further, the Authority considers that, given the legitimate public interest in the issue of the link between violence towards animals and subsequent violence towards people, the use of the material was not gratuitous, and instead highlighted the potential consequences for society of the youths’ actions. Having taken into account the contextual factors above, the Authority concludes that no breach of Standard 1 occurred.

[22] In respect of Standard 9, the Authority is of the view that the same contextual factors are relevant to its decision. In particular, it considers that the repeated warnings both before and during the item made it clear that the item’s content was not suitable for children, and afforded parents and caregivers adequate opportunity to exercise their discretion. Accordingly, the Authority considers that the broadcaster sufficiently considered children’s interests.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
28 November 2005


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

  1. Colin Duncan’s formal complaint to CanWest TVWorks – 25 July 2005
  2. CanWest’s response to the formal complaint – 22 August 2005
  3. Mr Duncan’s referral to the Authority – 12 September 2005
  4. CanWest’s response to the referral – 20 September 2005