Mason and TVWorks Ltd - 2011-058
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Laurel Mason
Channel/StationTV3 # 3
Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item reported on death of Osama Bin Laden – included image of bruised and bloodied face – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, controversial issues, responsible programming, children’s interests and violence
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – image related to major international event – clear warning given – contextual factors – not upheld
Standard 10 (violence) – contextual factors – image preceded by prolonged and detailed warning – broadcaster exercised adequate care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence – not upheld
Standard 9 (children’s interests) – 3 News was an unclassified news programme targeted at adults – news often deals with unpleasant material – clear warning – broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests – not upheld
Standard 8 (responsible programming) – 3 News was an unclassified news programme – standard not applicable – not upheld
Standard 4 (controversial issues) – item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on Tuesday 3 May 2011, reported on the death of Osama Bin Laden. The news reader stated:
And we must warn you that we are about to broadcast an image many people will find disturbing. If you are worried about that, or concerned for your children, you might want to take that into consideration and get them to turn away. It is a still image of the dead Osama Bin Laden. Pakistan television has posted a photograph, which they claim is the face of Osama Bin Laden after he was killed.
 The item cut to a photograph of a man’s bruised and bloodied face, with his eyes swollen shut. The image was broadcast for approximately 7 seconds, before the presenter continued, “We cannot confirm if this is in fact Bin Laden. But it is being shown on international feeds.”
 Laurel Mason made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards relating to good taste and decency, controversial issues, responsible programming, children’s interests and violence.
 The complainant argued that it was “completely inappropriate” to show a horrific image of Osama Bin Laden’s “mutilated” face, and considered that it was irresponsible to broadcast the image to an audience that included children. In her view, news content was becoming increasingly violent and she contended that showing a close-up image of a dead body was a “new low” for 3 News. She argued that the picture was not only “disturbing” but also controversial as its authenticity had not been verified.
 The complainant nominated Standards 1, 4, 8, 9 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in her complaint. Guidelines 1b, 9a and 10d are also relevant. These provide:
Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency
Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.
The use of visual and verbal warnings should be considered when content is likely to disturb or offend a significant number of viewers except in the case of news and current affairs, where verbal warnings only will be considered. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.
Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints
When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
Standard 8 Responsible Programming
Broadcasters should ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible.
Standard 9 Children’s Interests
During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.
Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material that would disturb or alarm them.
Standard 10 Violence
Broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.
In news, current affairs and factual programmes, where disturbing or alarming material is often shown to reflect a world in which violence occurs, the material should be justified in the public interest.
- 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 should be used when appropriate.
- When executions and assassinations are shown the coverage should not be explicit, prolonged, or repeated gratuitously.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant
 TVWorks considered that it was of legitimate public interest to broadcast the image, and noted that it was not the first time that photographs of dead people had been broadcast, for example, images of Saddam Hussein’s dead sons.
 The broadcaster emphasised that the item reported that the image had been released by Pakistan television and that its authenticity had not been confirmed. It said that developments subsequently revealed that it was a photo-shopped fake, and noted that viewers were informed of this in the following night’s programme.
 For these reasons, TVWorks declined to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standards 1, 4, 8, 9 and 10.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Mason referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She argued that the broadcaster’s response was inadequate as it failed to consider each of the broadcasting standards raised in her complaint.
 Ms Mason referred to President Obama’s reasoning regarding his decision not to release photos of Osama Bin Laden: “It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence.” In the complainant’s view, this statement supported the fact that showing the photo was inappropriate and contrary to the interests of viewers.
 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)
 When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:
- 3 News was broadcast at 6pm during children’s viewing times
- it was an unclassified news programme targeted at adults
- the image was preceded by a clear verbal warning.
 We note that the image subject to complaint formed part of a genuinely newsworthy story reporting on a major international event which attracted widespread public interest. We consider that the image was relatively brief, and given the subject matter of the story and the very extensive and specific nature of the warning which preceded the image, that it was well-signposted for viewers.
 For these reasons, and taking into account the relevant contextual factors, in particular that 3 News was an unclassified news programme targeted at adults, we decline to uphold a breach of Standard 1.
Standard 10 (violence)
 Standard 10 requires broadcasters to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. The Authority has previously found that Standard 10 applies to the effects or aftermath of violence, including still images, as well as violent acts.1
 In assessing whether Standard 10 was breached on this occasion, we have considered the contextual factors outlined above at paragraph . In addition, we note that guideline 10d to Standard 10 acknowledges that news programmes will often contain “disturbing or alarming material... to reflect a world in which violence occurs”.
 In our view, TVWorks used appropriate judgement and discretion in deciding the degree of graphic detail to be included in the news item. In particular, the broadcast of the image was brief, and it was preceded by a prolonged and detailed warning alerting viewers to the specific nature of the image. In these circumstances, we find that the broadcaster exercised adequate care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence, and we decline to uphold the Standard 10 complaint.
Standard 9 (children)
 Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm.
 We note that 3 News was an unclassified news programme targeted at adults and that children were unlikely to be watching unsupervised. In Viewers for Television Excellence and TVNZ, the Authority stated:2
As stated in previous decisions, genuinely newsworthy issues often deal with matters that are inherently distasteful; it is for this reason that news programmes are not subject to the classification system. To comply with the interests of child viewers, broadcasters must simply take appropriate care in the way in which this material is presented.
 In our view, the broadcaster exercised appropriate care by providing a strong verbal warning which specifically referred to children. Parents were warned about the potentially disturbing nature of the image and advised, “If you are worried about that, or concerned for your children, you might want to take that into consideration and get them to turn away.”
 Accordingly, we find that the broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests in screening the image during 3 News and we therefore decline to uphold this part of the complaint.
Standard 8 (responsible programming)
 Standard 8 requires that programmes are correctly classified, display programme classification information, and adhere to the time-bands set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code.
 As 3 News was an unclassified news programme we find that the responsible programming standard is not applicable in the circumstances. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints)
 Standard 4 provides that when discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
 The complainant argued that the image was controversial because its authenticity had not been verified.
 In our view, the brief news item reported on the death of Osama Bin Laden. It did not include a discussion of whether the image broadcast was authentic, which, in any case, would not amount to a controversial issue of public importance. However we note that the item made it clear that the image had not been verified, when the presenter stated, “We cannot confirm if this is in fact Bin Laden.”
 Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
9 August 2011
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Laurel Mason’s formal complaint – 4 May 2011
2 TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 5 May 2011
3 Ms Mason’s referral to the Authority – 5 May 2011
4 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 27 May 2011
1For example, Kiro and TVNZ, Decision No. 2007-111
2Decision No 2006-033