BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Fielding and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 2003-003

The Tribe teen drama series – violence – unsuitable viewing material for children

Standards 4, 5 & 6 – not relevant – decline to determine

Standard 1 – contextual matters – no uphold

Standard 2 – no uphold

Standard 9 – not unsuitable for teenage audience – no uphold

Standard 10 – violence ritualistic and symbolic – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision


[1] An episode of The Tribe, a "futuristic teen drama" was broadcast on TV3 on Sunday 14 July 2002 at 9.50am.

[2] Francis Fielding complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme contained violence and was inappropriate viewing material for children.

[3] When the broadcaster failed to respond to his formal complaint, Mr Fielding referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[4] In its response, TV3 said that the material shown was appropriate for the target teenage audience and in context it did not breach broadcasting standards.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] An episode of The Tribe was broadcast on TV3 at 9.50am on Sunday 14 July 2002. According to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster:

The Tribe is a futuristic teen drama where the world’s adults have been wiped out by a deadly virus. Without adults, the children must try and make their own way in a world with different (or no) rules.

In series one the children/teens are coming to terms with a life without readily available necessities such as food. A "battle" for shelter and food is shown in the second half of the episode. The battle involves pillows being thrown as well as traps being set and the participants jousting with sticks and spraying each other with fire extinguishers.

The Complaint

[7] Mr Fielding expressed concern with the material shown on the programme and considered that it should be banned as it was inappropriate viewing material for children. He wrote:

I doubt that I have ever seen a programme in which the beating of children and blatant cruelty were presented to the public with such relish, and I find it hard to understand why such "entertainment" is provided at any time, let alone prime viewing time for children.

[8] Mr Fielding suggested that this kind of programme could lead to a child committing a violent criminal offence, and referred to the killing of Michael Choy. He wrote:

How can we condemn juvenile crime if our society permits TV3 to transmit rubbish such as "The Tribe"?


[9] As TV3 did not respond to his formal complaint within 20 working days, Mr Fielding referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of`the Broadcasting Act 1989. On being advised of the complaint, TV3 responded to Mr Fielding.

The Standards

[10] TV3 assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by the complainant. The Standards (and relevant Guidelines) in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice 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 (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

Standard 2 Law and Order

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

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.

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.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Standard 10 Violence

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[11] Dealing first with its failure to respond to the formal complaint, TV3 said that "the lack of a response was a complete oversight". It apologised to Mr Fielding for its late response to his complaint. TV3 advised that it had not assessed the complaint against Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Television Code as it did not consider those standards were applicable to the programme complained about.

[12] TV3 noted that The Tribe, a series made in New Zealand, was targeted at a teenage audience. It stated that the series, which attracted much critical acclaim, had become popular overseas and screened throughout the world. It also advised that the episode complained about was from series 1, with series 5 currently being produced.

[13] In relation to Mr Fielding’s complaint under Standard 1, TV3 concluded that, in context, the programme did not breach current norms of good taste and decency. It submitted that the type of theme presented in the programme complained about was "common to other works of fiction aimed at children". TV3 disagreed that "violent and cruel behaviour is condoned in the programme". It argued that the material shown on the programme was appropriate for the targeted teenage audience. It continued:

The "battle" about which you were concerned was filmed in an unrealistic manner, for example the sticks the kids use are painted with stripes like circus props. They do not hit each other with them – they use them to trip up their opponents or hit the sticks that they are carrying. At the end of the battle the "Circus Tribe" captures the "Mallrats Tribe" without anyone being hurt.

[14] Turning to Standard 2, TV3 said that, while bad behaviour was displayed by some characters, it was not portrayed as "appropriate or desirable". It did not agree that the programme glorified violence or cruelty. In its view, the behaviour of the "Circus Tribe" was portrayed as being wrong. It declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

[15] TV3 disputed Mr Fielding’s contention regarding the nexus between programmes, such as the one complained about, and recently reported youth offending. In TV3’s view it was "unlikely that the programme had any influence on the offenders responsible for Mr Choy’s death".

[16] Dealing with the complaint that it had not been mindful of children in screening The Tribe, TV3 wrote:

The Tribe is a critically acclaimed, NZ made series, which is viewed by young teens around the world. The series is specifically made for the young teen viewer. The production house that makes the series specialises in children’s television and is involved with children’s charities. The [Standards] Committee finds that the preparation of the programme reflects the interests and acknowledges the rights of young people to access programming of interest to their particular age group.

The Tribe screens during PGR time on Sunday afternoon and the content is appropriate for this time band. Programming that is interesting and suitable for the target audience (ie. young teens) is relatively rare. While some of the themes require a more mature sensibility than programming suitable for (and aimed at) young children, this does not mean that the content is inappropriate for screening during PGR time.

[17] TV3 noted that it broadcast programmes targeted at teenagers from 9am to 12 noon on Sunday. It concluded that it had considered the viewing interest of child viewers, as the programme was broadcast at an appropriate time for its target audience.

[18] TV3 also found that Standard 10 had not been breached. In addition to the contextual matters already referred to, it noted that the material was appropriate for the teenage audience and the PGR time band. "Such themes are not uncommon in storytelling aimed at young teens" TV3 said. The programme did not condone the actions of the those characters that instigated the "battle" scene, TV3 advised, but portrayed them as the "villains".

The Complainant’s Referral to the Authority

[19] Dissatisfied with TV3’s response, Mr Fielding said that the "general impression I obtained at the time of viewing was of considerable violence." He considered that TV3 had "glossed" over the "inherent violence of the programme". He maintained that the programme was not realistic in its portrayal of the consequences of violence, and considered that a teen viewer was "just as likely to see the subject matter as socially acceptable according to the norms of television". Mr Fielding did not accept the contextual factors referred to by TV3 were appropriate, as children outside the target audience may have viewed the programme.

[20] As to Standard 2, Mr Fielding reiterated that the programme was of a "violent nature" and that programmes like The Tribe provided an "excellent introduction to the way in which a pizza delivery man can be murdered by children".

[21] Mr Fielding also disagreed with TV3’s decision not to uphold the aspects of his complaint concerning Standard 9 and Standard 10. In his view, the content of a programme and the messages conveyed to children were of vital importance – "heroes", and "villains" should be clearly distinguishable. In Mr Fielding’s opinion, the programme failed to convey this. Mr Fielding disagreed that TV3 had considered the viewing interests of children and remained unconvinced by TV3’s arguments that it had exercised the requisite care when it broadcast the episode of The Tribe complained about.

[22] Mr Fielding also noted a general concern regarding the amount of violence shown on television and the "causal relationship" with the increase in recent violent youth offending. Mr Fielding expressed his frustration with the complaints process, and the time taken by TV3 to respond to his formal complaint. He wrote:

I have not been dissuaded from making this complaint, because I believe in the merit of placing constraints on some types of material provided to children during their formative years. The Tribe was just one programme I happened to stumble across, and there are many other programmes that adults should be concerned about if they are to accept some responsibility for the environment our children grow up in.

[23] Mr Fielding also attached a submission from his wife regarding the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Mrs Fielding, a retired psychotherapist, expressed her concerns that the application of freedom of expression in this matter may not take into account the possible implications of the target teenage audience not being in a position to exercise judgement over the material being shown. Mrs Fielding also considered that the UN Convention concerning children required parents and caregivers to exercise their responsibility to teach their children and set boundaries.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[24] Referring to Mr Fielding’s concerns that children outside the target audience may have seen the programme, TV3 stated that it could not control the viewing audience. It published programme information to allow viewers to make informed decisions about what they watched, TV3 said. It continued:

This rating and time zone information is of particular importance to those who have the responsibility for supervising vulnerable members of the viewing public – generally children. Once the broadcaster is satisfied that the material being screened is suitable for the time zone and the rating the responsibility then shifts back to the supervising viewer to ensure this group is viewing appropriate material. The [Standards] Committee is satisfied that this programme was appropriately rated PGR.

[25] TV3 rejected the complainant’s contention that this programme would incite youth offending. It acknowledged the ongoing debate about the impact of television on viewers, but submitted that "no reputable study has ever conclusively found that observed fictional material has a deleterious effect". TV3 reiterated that the programme complained about could not be linked to encouraging teenage violence and criminal offending.

[26] In response to its failure to deal with Mr Fielding’s complaint within the statutory time frame, TV3 said it took its "code responsibilities very seriously". While it acknowledged its "exceptional" oversight of Mr Fielding’s complaint, and had apologised, it considered that he had not suffered any prejudice as a result.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[27] Mr Fielding reiterated, that as the programme complained about was shown at "prime viewing time for children", TV3 had shown a "blatant disregard" for the potential effect it could have on child viewers. Referring to TV3’s comment that it rejected any relationship between the material shown on The Tribe and youth offending, Mr Fielding considered that as TV3 was aware that it was a debatable issue, then it should exercise "caution" with its programming.

The Authority’s Determination

[28] Mr Fielding complained that The Tribe depicted socially irresponsible behaviour, and breached a range of the standards in the Television Code. He was particularly concerned with the violence and cruel behaviour portrayed in the programme, and considered it unsuitable viewing material for children at 9.50am on Sunday morning.

[29] The Tribe, described as a "futuristic teen drama", is about children who must survive in a world without adults, or any social order. In the episode complained about, there was conflict between two tribes for shelter and limited food supplies and a "battle" ensued, which represented a significant part of the programme. The "battle" typically involved the "goodies" (Mallrats Tribe) against the "baddies" (Circus Tribe), and featured pillow fighting, setting traps and the characters jousting with coloured striped sticks. The fighting was ritualistic and of a symbolic nature, and the dramatic tension was reflected in the costumes worn by the characters. The Authority observes that the characters did not engage in physical contact, and that no injuries were sustained by any of the characters.

[30] The Authority notes that The Tribe involves themes that are common in storytelling targeted at young teens. It also notes that the programme was shown during PGR time and was specifically made for a young teen audience. The Authority upholds TV3’s submission that:

Programming that is interesting and suitable for the target audience (ie. young teens) is relatively rare. While some of the themes require a more mature sensibility than programming suitable for (and aimed at) young children, this does not mean that the context is inappropriate for screening during PRG time.

[31] Turning to the standards cited, the Authority does not consider that, in context, there was any material which transgressed Standard 1 of the Television Code. Although bad behaviour was displayed by the "Circus Tribe", it does not accept that the programme condoned socially irresponsible behaviour in contravention of Standard 2. As the programme was not a news or current affairs item Standards 4 and 5 are not applicable. Standard 6 is also not relevant as fairness towards a person or organisation can not be applied to the programme complained about.

[32] Given that the screening of the programme was within the appropriate timeband, and that the programme was broadcast at a time for its targeted young teenage audience, the Authority considers that the broadcaster demonstrated that it was mindful of the effect of the broadcast on children. Finally, as the "battle" scene was portrayed in an unrealistic manner, and the fighting was ritualistic and of a symbolic nature, the Authority does not accept that the material complained about contravened Standard 10. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

[33] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards and applies them in a manner which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Cartwright
30 January 2003


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

  1. Francis Fielding’s Formal Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 14 July 2002
  2. Mr Fielding’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 10 September 2002
  3. TV3’s Response to the Complainant – 7 October 2002
  4. Mr Fielding’s Response to the Authority – 23 October 2002
  5. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 13 November 2002
  6. Mr Fielding’s Final Comment – 27 November 2002