BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Livingstone and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-007

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Cedric Livingstone
Number
2008-007
Programme
Breakfast
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast – item discussed the assault on convicted murderer William Bell by fellow prison inmates – presenter made a statement regarding the assault – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, law and order and fairness

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – host’s statement was sarcastic – made clear to viewers that neither host supported violence against prisoners – 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 6 (fairness) – people referred to were treated fairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Breakfast, broadcast on TV One at approximately 7am on 10 December 2007, discussed the feedback it had received concerning William Bell, a convicted murderer, being seriously assaulted by another inmate while he was in prison. The feedback also related to comments made by lawyer and prisoners’ rights advocate, Peter Williams, who voiced his concern about prisoners being assaulted by fellow inmates.

[2]   One of the presenters, Pippa Wetzell, read out various faxes and emails that viewers had sent in, all of which expressed the view that it was a good thing Mr Bell had been assaulted and that he had deserved it because of his crimes. After reading out the feedback she stated:

...although I think if you listen to Peter Williams QC...what he is saying is right; and although you feel passionately that William Bell probably got everything that was coming to him – that’s not really the way a civilised society should operate.


[3]   In response to those comments, the other presenter, Paul Henry, stated:

No, that’s right. I still don’t think that Bell got everything that was coming to him, but who knows, maybe he’ll buck up, you know get a bit of good health, go back to prison and get bashed again – fingers crossed anyway.
Um, having said that, it seems extraordinary to me that people can’t actually listen to Peter Williams and understand exactly what he is saying. The number of people that have written in to say “prisoners don’t have rights”...do you seriously want to live in a country where people that commit crimes lose all of their rights? Do you seriously want to live in a country like that? Because I don’t want to live in a country like that – I absolutely believe what Peter Williams is saying is correct. He may be going too far for many people...but at the end of the day you cannot tolerate one prisoner torturing, bashing, killing another prisoner. You should be safe in prison...          

Complaint

[4]   Cedric Livingstone made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the host’s comments breached standards of good taste and decency, law and order and fairness.

[5]   Mr Livingstone argued that the host’s attitude towards prisoners was that they were sub-human and that reading out the feedback “encouraged violence toward and mistreatment of prisoners”. He stated that prison was distressing enough for the families of prisoners and prisoners themselves “without the added incitement to violence against them”.

[6]   The complainant considered that the host had gone too far in making his comment about Mr Bell and that the problem of prisoners being assaulted by other prisoners was a very serious issue. He contended that Mr Henry was advocating and promoting criminal activity by encouraging violence against prisoners.

Standards

[7]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under standards 1, 2 and 6 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.

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8]   TVNZ argued that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the material contained in the broadcast must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. It contended that the host’s comments about Mr Bell were sarcastic and that this view was backed up by his next statements supporting the comments made by Mr Williams that prisoners should be safe from harm in prison.

[9]   The broadcaster considered that “neither presenter had thought it was acceptable that William Bell had been bashed by a fellow prisoner and that they both agreed with Peter Williams’ position”. It believed that viewers would have taken the host’s comments as sarcasm rather than an endorsement of violence against prisoners. It declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

[10]   TVNZ contended that for a breach of the law and order standard to occur, the broadcast must actively promote disrespect for the law. In stated that “nothing in the exchange between the two presenters actively promotes disrespect for the law” and that it was clear that both presenters believed that prisoners should be safe from harm in prison. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 2 (law and order).    

[11]   With respect to fairness, the broadcaster maintained that the exchange between the two hosts did not endorse violence against prisoners. It considered that the presenters made it clear that “it was unacceptable for prisoners to be tortured, bashed or killed by other prisoners”. It declined to uphold the fairness complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Livingstone referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He argued that the host was not being sarcastic when he made the comment about Mr Bell not having received everything that was coming to him and “fingers crossed” that he would get beaten again.

[13]   The complainant considered that, at best, the host’s statement sent “mixed messages”, as on the one hand he seemed happy that Mr Bell was assaulted and on the other believed that prisoners should be safe in prison.   

Authority's Determination

[14]   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)

[15]   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:

  • Breakfast is a G-rated programme

  • the item was broadcast at 7am

  • the item discussed a current news event

  • the item was broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing time.


[16]   In the Authority’s view, although the host initially seemed sincere when he made his first statement about Mr Bell, it quickly became apparent that he was being sarcastic. The comment was directly followed by the host stating that he agreed with Peter Williams that prisoners should be safe, and that he did not want to live in a country where “people that commit crimes lose all of their rights”.

[17]   Looking at the item as a whole, it was made clear to viewers that both hosts did not support violence against prisoners. Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1.

Standard 2 (law and order)

[18]   The Authority has stated on a number of 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, glamorise or condone criminal activity. As mentioned above, the Authority considers that the statement complained about was intended to be sarcastic, and that any ambiguity was clarified by the host’s further comments that violence towards prisoners was unacceptable. The item did not encourage viewers to break the law and did not promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the law and order complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[19]   As discussed above, the Authority finds that the hosts made it clear that they did not support prisoners being assaulted. As a result, the people referred to in the item, Mr Bell and prisoners in general, were treated fairly. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the fairness complaint.       

 

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

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 June 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Cedric Livingstone’s formal complaint –  10 December 2007
2.           Mr Livingstone’s further letter to TVNZ – 23 January 2008
3.           TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 30 January 2008
4.           Mr Livingstone’s referral to the Authority – 24 January 2008
5.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 28 April 2008