BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Dunckley and TVWorks Ltd - 2008-079

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Ellen Dunckley
3 News
TVWorks Ltd
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item on the petition to overturn the removal of section 59 of the Crimes Act and whether a referendum on the issue should be held during the 2008 election – contained film clips of an adult lightly smacking a child’s bottom with an open hand – allegedly inaccurate and misleading

Standard 5 (accuracy) – viewers would not have been misled – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   An item on 3 News entitled “The Smacking Law Referendum” was broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on Tuesday 24 June 2008. It looked at a petition aimed at overturning the repeal of section 59 from the Crimes Act 1961 and, if the petition obtained the required number of signatures, whether a referendum on the issue should be included in the 2008 election.

[2]   When introducing the item the presenter stated:

The National Party is challenging Helen Clark over the anti-smacking law petition. John Key says if the petition’s numbers check out, then a referendum about the controversial Bill should be held on election-day. Key says Clark’s claim there isn’t enough time is the height of arrogance.  

[3]   During the item, two separate and brief film clips were shown in which two different children were smacked with an open hand on the bottom by an adult.

[4]   In the first clip, a man and child were shown from the shoulders down so viewers were unable to see their faces. As the child walked along, the man grabbed the child’s shirt near the neck area, pulled the child back and lightly smacked the child on the bottom with an open hand.

[5]   In the second clip, an adult was shown pulling a child up off the ground by one arm and smacking the child slowly on the bottom three times with an open hand. This footage was shot in such a way that the adult and child were shaded in darkness and unidentifiable.     


[6]   Ellen Dunckley made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was misleading and breached standards of accuracy.

[7]   The complainant stated “in the offending footage an adult is shown applying a very slight, and specifically, a very slow and restrained slap with an open hand to the fully clothed bottom of a child who reacts with total composure”. She argued that “the prosecution of parents delivering trivial smacks such as those that your channel screens was specifically excluded from the Act in an amendment added by the National Party as a condition of their support”.

[8]   Ms Dunckley contended that it was misleading and inaccurate to depict this type of parental behaviour while discussing “the Act that was passed, the petition that has been circulated to overturn it and any political parties who support outlawing extreme violent punishment of children in the name of discipline”.     


[9]   Standard 5 and guideline 5b are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Guideline 5b

Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[10]   TVWorks did not consider that Ms Dunckley’s complaint raised any issues of broadcasting standards. It argued that it was most unlikely that a significant number of viewers would have been misled by the shots accompanying the story. It contended that the graphic used was “purely editorial”. The broadcaster stated that it would not investigate Ms Dunckley’s complaint.  

Referral to the Authority

[11]   Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, Ms Dunckley referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She maintained her argument that the item was misleading and had breached Standard 5 (accuracy).

Authority's Determination

[12]   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.

Procedural Matter

[13]   Broadcasters must investigate and deal with all valid formal complaints using the process set out in the Broadcasting Act 1989. In the Authority’s view, the broadcaster’s approach in declining to investigate Ms Dunckley’s complaint was incorrect. Issues of broadcasting standards may well be raised in relation to the impression left by film clips used in news items. TVWorks should have assessed Ms Dunckley’s complaint with reference to the standard raised in order to meet its obligations under the Broadcasting Act.

[14]   The Authority advises TVWorks that any similar complaints in the future will be referred back to the broadcaster for consideration. For the reasons outlined below, however, the Authority considers that it is not necessary to do so on this occasion.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[15]   Standard 5 requires news, current affairs and other factual programmes to be accurate and truthful on points of fact. Ms Dunckley has argued that the film clips in the item of children being smacked lightly would have misled viewers. The Authority disagrees, for the following reasons.

[16]   In the Authority’s view, the clips were extremely brief and shown either in muted colour or in silhouette. It would have been obvious to viewers that the clips were merely “wallpaper” for the topic under discussion; television is a visual medium and such footage is commonly used by news broadcasters as background to a reporter’s voiceover. The clips were not portrayed as being examples of conduct that would contravene the law on disciplining children, and were clearly dramatisations. The Authority considers that the clips would not have misled viewers.   

[17]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.      


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
21 October 2008


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

1.           Ellen Dunckley’s formal complaint – 30 June 2008
2.          TVWorks’ response – 17 July 2008
3.          Ms Dunckley’s referral to the Authority – 22 July 2008
4.          TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 5 August 2008