Johns and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2016-049 (20 September 2016)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Paula Rose
- Charlotte Johns
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
An episode of the British cartoon, Grizzly Tales, which was classified G (General), featured a young girl called Victoria Spew who threw tantrums until she vomited to get her way. At the end of the episode, Victoria was sucked into the vacuum cleaner her mother had bought to clean up after her. The cartoon showed Victoria’s teeth being pulled from her gums, and organs and body parts falling into the bag. The episode ended with Victoria’s body parts trapped in the vacuum cleaner. The Authority upheld a complaint that this episode of Grizzly Tales was unsuitable for young children. The programme was classified G and so was required to be suitable for all children under the age of 14. While this episode may have appealed to older children, the Authority did not consider it was appropriate for preschool children, who were likely to be watching unsupervised early in the morning. The Authority did not make an order.
Upheld: Children’s Interests, Violence, Good Taste and Decency
 An episode of the British cartoon Grizzly Tales, which was classified G (General) and broadcast at 7.20am, featured a young girl called Victoria Spew who threw tantrums until she vomited to get her way. Victoria’s mother (who hated vomit) bought a new vacuum cleaner to clean up after her. At the end of the episode, the vacuum cleaner sucked Victoria into the vacuum cleaner bag. The programme depicted Victoria’s teeth being pulled from her gums, and organs and body parts were shown falling into the bag. The episode ended with Victoria’s body parts trapped in the vacuum cleaner in the attic, as her mother could not go through the vomit in the bag to rescue her.
 Charlotte Johns complained that Grizzly Tales generally depicted horrific scenes and themes children were likely to find terrifying. She said that, while she did not normally let her preschool-aged children watch the show, her son changed the channel while she was out of the room and both children were very upset and had nightmares about the vacuum cleaner scene in this episode.
 The issue is whether the broadcast breached the children’s interests, violence and good taste and decency standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.1
 The programme was broadcast on TV2 on 9 May 2016. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
Did the programme breach broadcasting standards?
 Ms Johns’ complaint raises similar issues under the children’s interests, good taste and decency and violence standards. As the same contextual factors and other considerations are relevant to our assessment of each of these three standards, we have addressed them together.
 The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) states that broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. A ‘child’ is defined for the purposes of the Code as being aged 14 years or under.2
 The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) similarly aims to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress. Broadcasters should take effective steps to inform audiences of the nature of the programme, and enable viewers to regulate their own and children’s viewing behaviour.3
 Broadcasters should also exercise care and discretion when portraying violence, and ensure that any violent content is appropriate to the context of the programme and classified carefully (Standard 4).
The parties’ submissions
 TVNZ said that Grizzly Tales was not aimed at preschoolers but at older children (aged eight and above) who would appreciate the dark humour of the show. It understood that some children, particularly preschoolers, might not like or enjoy it, but said that the opening titles made the genre of the cartoon clear so younger viewers could decide whether they wished to continue watching. It said that not all children’s programming could be expected to appeal to all children.
 TVNZ further submitted that the stories in Grizzly Tales were ‘intentionally gruesome’, ‘ghoulish’ and ‘spooky’. TVNZ said that this kind of gruesome morality tale was a popular and well-known theme in children’s fiction (citing Roald Dahl and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Brothers Grimm and fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella, as examples). It said that the violence in the episode was not prolonged or explicit, as no blood or gore was shown, and that the way Victoria was vacuumed up was ‘fanciful and acceptable for a G certificate’.
 In her referral, Ms Johns said that she did not accept TVNZ’s argument that the show was appropriate to broadcast in the morning timeslot due to its G classification. She said that parental guidance was required for the show and that she ‘had a reasonable expectation that programmes being screened during children’s TV show time in the mornings and afternoons should be appropriate for children of all ages to watch’.
 We commence our analysis by observing that children’s stories are replete with narratives and imagery which can be frightening to some children. Traditional children’s stories have threats of children being eaten or lured away by people, such as the Pied Piper, never to be seen again. Most societies accept that these fantastic tales are suitable for many children, who in most cases are able to deal with them without any harm. The difficulty is that there will always be some children who will be upset by these stories. How do we deal with this? There is no simple answer.
 When we consider a complaint under each of the nominated standards, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:
- Grizzly Tales was classified G (General)\
- the time of broadcast at 7.20am on a weekday, when children of all ages could be watching
- the opening title segment, which identified the likely ‘scary’ content of the episode
- the absence of a pre-broadcast warning
- the nature of the programme, which is a cartoon horror/comedy targeted at older children aged eight or above
- the programme line-up – this episode was preceded by another episode of Grizzly Tales
- audience expectations of Grizzly Tales, which is an award-winning, successful and popular children’s cartoon which follows a tradition of gruesome morality tales in children’s fiction.
 When audiences are adequately informed of the nature of a programme it follows that they are less likely to be surprised or offended by its content and therefore that the broadcast is less likely to breach the standards. The classification of a programme is an important consideration under all three of the nominated standards, as the use of classifications is one of the primary ways that broadcasters enable audiences to make informed viewing choices and regulate their own, and their children’s, viewing.
 We have carefully considered whether this episode of Grizzly Tales was correctly classified G or whether it warranted a higher rating of PGR, which would have alerted parents and caregivers to the need for supervision. The G and PGR classifications are defined as follows:4
G – General
Programmes which exclude material likely to be unsuitable for children. Programmes may not necessarily be designed for child viewers but should not contain material likely to alarm or distress them.
PGR – Parental Guidance Recommended
Programmes containing material more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or an adult.
 We have reached the view, with some considerable hesitation, that the content of this episode of Grizzly Tales went beyond what is envisaged by the G classification. It was not appropriate for children of all ages and had the potential to alarm and distress younger children. In reaching this conclusion, we are conscious that the same could be said for some versions of Little Red Riding Hood, The Pied Piper of Hamelin and similar stories.
 However, the purpose of the G classification is to ensure that programmes are appropriate for all children, and do not contain material that might be unsuitable for any child under the age of 14. The classification as it is defined does not make a distinction between preschool children and older children when scheduling programmes during the G timeband. Nor is it concerned with whether or not the material will appeal to one age group more than another.
 What is important is that parents, caregivers and guardians can be confident in leaving children unsupervised in front of the television to watch programmes during a G-classified timeslot, and that there will be no content which will unduly disturb or upset children of any age. This is particularly so during the early morning programming slot when many children watch television while parents and caregivers are busy getting ready for the day or preparing breakfast, and therefore less available to supervise.
 One positive feature of this episode is that the imagery was highly stylised and intended to be comedic. It was, however, macabre and graphic in the sense that viewers saw Victoria’s teeth being forcibly pulled from her gums and her organs and severed fingers falling onto a pile of vomit in the vacuum cleaner bag. The combination of vomiting, dismemberment and implied death was gruesome. While to some it was so fanciful as to be completely absurd, to some younger children it may well have been disturbing. One has to wonder whether the entertainment and education of children is appropriately conducted by the use of this sort of imagery, absurd though it was.
 Despite Grizzly Tales being apparently well-known as a ‘scary’ cartoon (and the signposting of its potentially scary content during the episode’s introduction), we do not consider that audiences were sufficiently informed by this episode’s G classification of its likely content as required by the good taste and decency standard, or given a reasonable opportunity to exercise discretion (Standard 1). We consider that the PGR classification, which recommends parental or caregiver supervision, would have been more suitable.
 It follows that we do not think that the broadcaster ensured that children could be protected from the content (Standard 3 – Children’s Interests) or took adequate care in relation to the violent and gruesome content of this episode (Standard 4 – Violence).
 We therefore uphold the complaint that Standards 1, 3 and 4 were breached. We are satisfied that this finding does not unreasonably limit the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression; we are not suggesting that the programme ought not to have been broadcast at all – only that it would have more appropriately been classified PGR and scheduled during the PGR timeband.
For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of Grizzly Tales on 9 May 2016 breached Standards 1, 3 and 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. We do not intend to do so on this occasion. We consider our decision provides sufficient guidance to broadcasters and clarifies our expectation that programmes classified G must be suitable for children of all ages, including preschoolers, especially at times they are likely to be watching.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
20 September 2016
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Charlotte Johns’ formal complaint – 9 May 2016
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 7 June 2016
3 Ms Johns’ referral to the Authority – 23 June 2016
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 4 August 2016
1 This complaint was determined under the new Free-to-Air Television Code, which took effect on 1 April 2016 and applies to any programmes broadcast on or after that date: http://bsa.govt.nz/standards/overview
2 Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9
3 Guideline 1b to Standard 1
4 Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9