BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Lace and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-053

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Mike Lace
Number
2008-053
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News– item reported on the Warriors rugby league team’s anti-bullying campaign – included video footage of high school students fighting – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, law and order and violence

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – introduction clearly signposted that item contained violent material – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 2 (law and order) – item did not encourage viewers to break the law or promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity – not upheld

Standard 10 (violence) – broadcaster exercised sufficient care and discretion – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6.30pm on Thursday 3 April 2008, reported on the Warriors rugby league team and its members’ involvement in an anti-bullying campaign following revelations of “fight clubs” occurring in some Auckland schools. The item contained footage of original video clips that had been uploaded onto the internet and which showed students fighting in classrooms and on school grounds. The students fighting in the video clips could be seen repeatedly punching each other in the head and body as fellow students cheered them on.
   
[2]   The item included interviews with the Associate Minister of Education, Parekura Horomia, and Dean Bell, a representative from “Warriors Against Bullying”. Both men made brief statements about bullying in schools and the need for it to be addressed seriously.    

Complaint

[3]   Mike Lace made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item had breached standards of good taste and decency, law and order and violence.

[4]   With respect to good taste and decency, Mr Lace argued that “the violent behaviour broadcast should not have been shown as it was offensive in nature, and it would have been possible for children to see the violence and consider it normal activity”.

[5]   Referring to guideline 2b of the law and order standard, the complainant contended that the item “glamorised the fighting, which is assault, and which is a criminal activity”. In reference to guideline 2e, he argued that the item had portrayed the realistic and violent anti-social behaviour contained in the video clips in a way that glamorised the student’s actions. He considered that the story could have been reported without showing the footage of students fighting. 

[6]   Mr Lace noted that the violence standard required broadcasters to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. He also noted that guideline 10b to the violence standard stated that broadcasters needed to be mindful of the cumulative effect of violent incidents and themes. Referring to guideline 10g, the complainant stated that broadcasters needed to use judgment and discretion in deciding the degree of graphic detail to be included in news programmes.

[7]   The complainant argued that the item had breached Standard 10 (violence) because children were likely to be watching, the degree of violence shown was significant, there was no public interest in broadcasting the footage, and the producers failed to adequately consider its effect on the general public.     

Standards

[8]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 2 and 10 and guidelines 2b, 2e, 10b and 10g of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These 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.

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.

Guidelines

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

2e    The realistic portrayal of anti-social behaviour, including violent and serious crime and the abuse of liquor and drugs, should not be shown in a way that glamorises these activities.

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.

Guidelines

10b    Broadcasters should be mindful of the cumulative effect of violent incidents and themes and should avoid any impression that violence is dominating a single programme, a programme series, or a line-up of programmes screened back-to-back.

10g    News, current affairs and factual programmes will, by their nature, often contain violent, disturbing or alarming material. Broadcasters should not falsify, by omission, a world in which much violence and brutality occurs. When such scenes are necessarily included to serve the public interest, the fact that violence has painful and bloody consequences should be made clear. However, editors and producers must use judgement and discretion in deciding the degree of graphic detail to be included in news programmes when children are likely to be watching. Warnings within news programmes must be used as appropriate.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   TVNZ stated that the item complained about was a “positive follow-up from the initial stories of fight clubs in schools” and that it centred on the Warriors’ campaign to teach children ways to stop bullying.

[10]   The broadcaster argued that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. It stated that One News had a “default PGR rating” and that news broadcasts discussed current events such as serious crimes or natural disasters. TVNZ contended that there was an expectation that news broadcasts would “carry some footage” of the items being reported on.

[11]   TVNZ considered that children “would be unlikely to view the violence as normal activity given the context in which it was shown – that context being that a well-known sports team had launched an anti-bullying campaign”. It noted that the “language included in the video clips was all bleeped”. The broadcaster argued that the violence shown in the broadcast did not conform to current norms of decency and that was “precisely what rendered it newsworthy and a matter of public interest”. TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).

[12]   With respect to Standard 2 (law and order), the broadcaster contended that the item did not glamorise or condone the students’ fighting. It noted that Mr Horomia had stated in the item that violence was “utter rubbish” and “gutless”, and that Mr Bell had stated that he was horrified at the tragic implications of bullying. TVNZ maintained that the whole premise of the item was to cover the positive steps to deal with this “alarming problem amongst young people”. It declined to uphold the law and order complaint.

[13]   In relation to Standard 10 (violence), TVNZ maintained that it was in the public’s interest to broadcast the footage of the students fighting and that this was why it was newsworthy. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint.   

Referral to the Authority

[14]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Lace referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He reiterated the arguments contained in his formal complaint.

Authority's Determination

[15]   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.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[16]   When the Authority considers a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the item was part of a news programme
  • news programmes are unclassified
  • news programmes have an adult target audience
  • the item was broadcast at 6.30pm, during children’s normally accepted viewing time
  • the item contained actual footage of students fighting. 

[17]   The Authority points out that news programmes are unclassified. This recognises that programmes of this type will inform viewers of both pleasant and unpleasant events of importance and interest to the audience.

[18]   The Authority considers that the footage complained of was central to the thrust of the story and provided context to the report on the anti-bullying campaign being launched by the Warriors. It notes that, when introducing the item, the presenter stated:

A sports team full of hard nuts is weighing into an anti-bullying campaign following One News revelations of more fight clubs in schools. The message comes from the Warriors as another violent video surfaces on the net.

[19]   The Authority finds that the item’s introduction clearly signposted to viewers that they were going to see violent material and that the item dealt with violent themes. While the footage was shocking, the Authority considers that it gave viewers a real picture of what was happening and provided context. The Authority also considers that child viewers would have appreciated the fact that the behaviour shown in the footage was anti-social and that they would not have viewed the violence as “normal activity” as contended by the complainant. 

[20]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached standards of good taste and decency. 

Standard 10 (violence)

[21]   Mr Lace argued that the broadcaster failed to exercise sufficient care and discretion in deciding the degree of graphic detail to be included in the item. The Authority disagrees. It notes guideline 10g of the violence standard, which states:

News, current affairs and factual programmes will, by their nature, often contain violent, disturbing or alarming material. Broadcasters should not falsify, by omission, a world in which much violence and brutality occurs. When such scenes are necessarily included to serve the public interest, the fact that violence has painful and bloody consequences should be made clear. However, editors and producers must use judgement and discretion in deciding the degree of graphic detail to be included in news programmes when children are likely to be watching. Warnings within news programmes must be used as appropriate.

[22]   As discussed above, the purpose of showing the violent footage was to provide viewers with information about the disturbing phenomenon of students filming fights and then posting the footage on the internet. While the footage was unpleasant to watch, it exposed the reality of what was occurring. The Authority also notes that the footage was blurred and grainy, and did not show any graphic detail of students appearing injured or bloody.

[23]   Taking into account the contextual factors outlined in paragraph [16] above, the Authority considers that TVNZ exercised sufficient care and discretion in respect of the violence shown in the item. It declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 10. 

Standard 2 (law and order)         

[24]   The Authority has stated on previous occasions (e.g. Decision No. 2005-133) that the intent behind the law and order standard is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity. As mentioned above, the purpose of the item was to report on the launch of the Warriors’ anti-bullying campaign. It used the footage of students fighting to provide context and inform viewers.

[25]   The Authority finds that the item focussed on the widespread disapproval and concern at the appearance of the videos on the internet and the existence of “fight clubs” in some schools. The item included statements from the Associate Minister of Education and a representative from “Warriors Against Bullying” about the need for action to be taken on the issue of bullying in schools. The Authority considers that the item did not condone, promote or glamorise the violent behaviour contained in the footage, but rather vilified and denounced it. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the law and order complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
13 August 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Mike Lace’s formal complaint – 3 April 2008
2.           TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 7 May 2008
3.           Mr Lace’s referral to the Authority – 26 May 2008
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 11 June 2008