BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hawkins and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2005-045

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • J Hawkins
3 News, Nightline
CanWest TVWorks Ltd
TV3 # 2

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News and Nightline – footage of an assault on a man charged with child abuse – described as “street justice” – allegedly in breach of law and order

Standard 2 (law and order) – crime was not endorsed or glamorised – “street justice” a colloquialism – broadcaster did not condone assault – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An item on 3 News broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on 1 April 2005 detailed the lifting of name suppression in a prominent child abuse case. The piece contained footage of an assault on the accused that had screened previously when the name suppression order was still in effect. The voiceover stated:

Last week when he appeared in court it was street justice being meted out on [the accused]. He was punched to the ground after facing an indecent assault charge.

[2] An edited version of this item was re-screened on Nightline on TV3 at 10.30pm on the same day.


[3] J Hawkins complained to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the description of the assault as “street justice” breached Standard 2 (law and order) of the broadcasting code.

[4] Mr Hawkins stated that the attack was an illegal assault, and was in no way a form of justice. In the complainant’s view, the broadcaster had overtly condoned and supported the assault by describing it as “justice”. CanWest was also encouraging such illegality by presenting it in a positive and supportive way, he said.

[5] The complainant argued that promoting an assault as “street justice” was contrary to the maintenance of law and order. Referring to Guideline 2a, Mr Hawkins contended that the broadcaster had not respected the principles of law which sustain our society. Further, he argued that Guideline 2b had not been observed because CanWest had described the assault in a positive way, as “justice”.

[6] Mr Hawkins also maintained that Guideline 2c had been breached because the assault was depicted and described in a manner which invited imitation. He added:

[7] Showing an assault like this on a person charged with a sexual offence and depicting it in a positive way as “street justice” obviously implies that it would be a good thing for such “street justice” to be imitated by future assaults on any person charged in a similar way in the future.

[8] The complainant argued that it was unacceptable to promote the idea that there was an acceptable informal street justice system operating outside of the formal legal system.


[9] CanWest assessed the complaint under Standard 2 and Guidelines 2a, 2b and 2c of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

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.


2a   Broadcasters must respect the principles of law which sustain our society.

2b   Factual programmes should not glamorise criminal activity or condone the actions of criminals.

2c   Programmes should not depict or describe techniques of crime in a manner which invites imitation.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[10] CanWest stated that the Authority had found Standard 2 directs broadcasters to ensure that they do not actively encourage viewers to break the law. It did not consider that the item did so. Noting that the person restraining the assailant had called for police assistance, the broadcaster said that the crime was not endorsed or glamorised. Viewers had not been encouraged to replicate the assault, it said.

[11] CanWest was of the view that the term “street justice” was simply a colloquialism used to refer to action taken by individuals, rather than by an authorised body or individual. It found no implication that the action taken was justified or legal. CanWest declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[12] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Hawkins referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He enclosed a copy of a letter to CanWest which he had written in response to its decision. Mr Hawkins contended that there was no adequate reason in the decision to justify the statement complained of, other than to imply that some kind of justice had occurred.

[13] In the complainant’s view, the description was a value judgment with a positive connotation rather than being a factual description. Mr Hawkins argued that it amounted to encouraging viewers to regard the assault as a good thing, and therefore something that would be good to copy in a similar situation.

[14] CanWest’s claim that the term “street justice” was simply a colloquialism was not a justification for its use, the complainant said. Mr Hawkins argued that there were many colloquialisms that would be in poor taste and offensive.

Authority's Determination

[15] 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.

[16] Contrary to the complainant’s view, the Authority does not consider that the broadcaster condoned the act by labelling it as “street justice”. The Authority agrees with CanWest that the term “street justice” is a colloquialism which refers to vigilante action taken by individuals, rather than by an authorised body or individual. In the Authority’s view, the term was used as a description for what had occurred, and it did not condone or support the assault.

[17] Furthermore, Authority notes that the item clearly showed the person restraining the assailant calling for police assistance. There was no suggestion that the attack was justified or legal, and viewers were not encouraged or invited to replicate the assault. Accordingly, the Authority finds that Standard 2 was not breached on this occasion.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
30 June 2005


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

  1. J Hawkins’ formal complaint – 8 April 2005
  2. CanWest’s decision on the formal complaint – 13 May 2005
  3. Mr Hawkins’ referral to the Authority – 16 May 2005
  4. CanWest’s response to the Authority – 24 May 2005