BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Irwin and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2013-037

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Sylvia Irwin
Number
2013-037
Programme
Country Calendar
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Country Calendar – showed footage of young woman setting a leg-hold trap and moving behind a tree to kill a possum – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – footage was extremely brief and did not show anything graphic or gruesome as possum was killed off-screen – showed pest control as a normal part of rural life – acceptable in context – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  Country Calendar, an iconic New Zealand series about people living off the land in rural areas, showed footage of a young woman setting a leg-hold trap before moving behind a tree to kill a possum (the actual killing was not shown). The episode was broadcast on 6 April 2013 at 7pm on TV One.

[2]  Sylvia Irwin made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme condoned violence to animals, specifically by showing the use of gin traps and by filming a possum being killed.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Preliminary matter

[5]  Ms Irwin argued that the programme displayed disrespect for animal rights under the code of animal welfare ethics, and she referred to a proposed animal welfare code applicable to the making of New Zealand television programmes. These issues are outside the scope of our current broadcasting standards regime, and our assessment is limited to the programme material actually broadcast.

Did the broadcast threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[6]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1  The Authority will also consider the good taste and decency standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.2

[7]  Ms Irwin argued that the programme was “offensive” because it showed the use of gin traps, and a possum “waiting in fear and agony for a young girl… to come and bash it on the head with a hammer”.

[8]  TVNZ argued that the footage was acceptable in context. In particular, it noted that the possum was killed off-screen, and it maintained that a blow to the head was a humane method for killing possums. It contended that the leg-hold trap shown in the footage met national welfare standards and was not a gin trap. The broadcaster considered that the footage was consistent with audience expectations of Country Calendar in that it showed “pest control” as a normal part of rural life.

[9]  We agree with the broadcaster. Having viewed the programme it is clear the complainant’s perception of the footage was coloured by her underlying concerns about animal cruelty, which were not reflected in the content broadcast. The footage was brief and simply showed a young woman setting a leg-hold trap before moving behind a tree to kill a possum. The killing of the possum occurred off-screen and no graphic or gruesome material was shown. We do not agree that the possum was filmed “waiting in fear and agony”; it was shown for only a split-second in the trap.

[10]  The footage was not gratuitous or unexpected in context, but showed a realistic portrayal of pest control as a normal part of rural life for a family living in a remote area of Pelorus Sound. It had value in terms of freedom of expression, demonstrating the family’s approach to education; it accompanied the narrator’s commentary, “The system [they have]… treats every opportunity as a chance to pick up knowledge, whether it be in the kitchen, in the garden, or out on the farm checking the possum traps.”

[11]  The relatively innocuous footage was consistent with the programme’s G rating, and was in keeping with the nature of the programme. We are satisfied that the material would not have offended or distressed most viewers in context and we decline to uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
3 September 2013

Appendix

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

1           Sylvia Irwin’s formal complaint – 8 April 2013

2          TVNZ’s response to the complaint letters – 6 May 2013

3          Ms Irwin’s referral to the Authority (including attachments) – 14 May 2013

4          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 21 June 2013


1Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112

2Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November, 2006)