BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Pepping and TVWorks Ltd - 2009-014

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Mary Pepping
Number
2009-014
Programme
3 News
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – two items broadcast one after the other – first item reported on the re-opening of the euthanasia debate in the United Kingdom following the screening of a television documentary which showed a terminally ill man taking a lethal dose of drugs in Switzerland – second item reported on a voluntary euthanasia campaigner who had the words "DO NOT RESUSCITATE" tattooed on her chest – both items allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, law and order and children’s interests standards

Findings
Item on assisted suicide
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – report was tasteful – did not endorse either position – contextual factors – not upheld

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

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – item preceded by warning – parents given enough time to exercise discretion – broadcaster adequately considered the interests of child viewers – not upheld

Item on woman's tattoo
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

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

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – broadcaster adequately considered the interests of child viewers – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on Thursday 11 December 2008, reported on the revival of the euthanasia debate in the United Kingdom following the screening of a television documentary which showed a terminally ill man taking a lethal dose of drugs.

[2]  The 3 News presenter explained that the man suffered from motor neurone disease and that he felt everyone, including himself, would benefit if he died sooner rather than later. The presenter went on to say:

We should warn you that the following report shows [the man] in the final stages of his life and some viewers may find it distressing.

[3]  The report stated that the man had gone to an organisation in Switzerland called Dignitas, which had helped over 800 people commit suicide. It mentioned that, unlike the United Kingdom, assisted suicide was legal in Switzerland if a person suffered from a terminal illness. It went on to explain that the man wanted to end his life before motor neurone disease completely paralysed his body. It said he had been required to prove to Dignitas that he had a terminal illness and was consenting to taking the fatal drugs of his own volition. The report included parts of an interview with the man and showed him taking the drugs that ended his life.

[4]  The report also included a brief interview with the founder of Dignitas, who argued that a dignified death was a human right.

[5]  Directly after that item, 3 News showed another item about a 79-year-old New Zealand woman who had the words "DO NOT RESUSCITATE" tattooed on her chest. It was explained that she was getting the tattoo so that medical staff would know not to help her in the event she had a stroke or heart attack and could not express herself. The item went on to say that the woman was a member of Exit International, a group that supported voluntary euthanasia.

[6]  The woman stated that she was getting the tattoo to highlight her belief that the law in New Zealand needed to be changed so that people had a choice about how and when they died. The item included two brief interviews, one with a euthanasia campaigner, and the other with a Professor from the New Zealand Bioethics Council, who spoke about the ethical issues raised by the woman’s tattoo.

Complaints

[7]  Mary Pepping made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that both items breached standards relating to good taste and decency, law and order, and children’s interests.

[8]  The complainant noted that the items were broadcast at 6pm during children's normally accepted viewing times. She argued that both of the items encouraged people to kill themselves or to allow others to do so.

Standards

[9]  TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 2 and 9 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 9 Children's Interests

During children's normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[10]  TVWorks stated that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must have been unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. It noted that the stories formed part of an unclassified news programme that had an adult target audience.

[11]  The broadcaster argued that the "purpose of news programmes is to inform viewers of current events that occur and/or are relevant to our immediate and wider society", and that this sometimes involved reporting on controversial issues. It contended that there was a high level of public interest in the legality of euthanasia and its newsroom considered both the stories had a strong news value. It said that, "in this context, the Committee disagrees that the items were in bad taste because they screened in children’s viewing time".

[12]  TVWorks noted that the first item had been preceded by a warning, giving parents sufficient time to exercise discretion. It argued that nothing in the content of either item encouraged viewers to commit suicide. The first item, it said, explained the special circumstances that motivated the man to take his own life, as well as the political context and legal risks undertaken by the parties involved. The second item discussed a woman's campaign for the law to be changed in New Zealand to allow for euthanasia. It maintained that neither item advocated a position for or against voluntary euthanasia.

[13]  The broadcaster argued that "to censor news about controversial issues such as euthanasia would be a gross impediment to the democratic process upon which New Zealand is based ". It declined to uphold the complaint that the items breached standards of good taste and decency.

[14]  Turning to Standard 2 (law and order), TVWorks argued that the items did not encourage people to break the law or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity. It declined to uphold the law and order complaint.

[15]  With respect to Standard 9 (children's interests), the broadcaster stated that the scope of what individual parents considered suitable viewing for children was wide. It went on to say that parents should generally expect a degree of sophisticated material in news programmes, although they should also expect that children's interests had been considered in the form of editorial choices.

[16]  TVWorks argued that neither item "would have been surprising to parents who have opted to allow their children to watch the 6pm news; both because there was a warning about the content and because they did not contain any explicit graphic material" that was likely to disturb children. It declined to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[17]  Dissatisfied with TVWorks' response, Ms Pepping referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) if the Broadcasting Act 1989. She maintained that the items breached standards relating to good taste and decency, law and order, and children's interests.

Complainant's Final Comment

[18]  Ms Pepping reiterated her belief that the items encouraged people to commit suicide and should not have been broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times

Authority's Determination

[19]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcasts 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)

[20]  When the Authority considers an alleged breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the contextual factors which are relevant to both items include:

  • 3 News was an unclassified news programme
  • the items were broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times
  • news programmes have an adult target audience
  • unaccompanied children are unlikely to watch news programmes.

Item on assisted suicide

[21]  In the Authority's view, the item was a human interest story highlighting the particular circumstances which led to one man taking his own life.

[22]  The Authority notes that the item was preceded by a warning and, during footage of the dying man's final moments, the item cut away to an interview with the founder of Dignitas and then showed family pictures of the man and his wife. The Authority finds that the item was tasteful and did not contain any material that could be considered gratuitous or which would have offended a significant number of viewers.

[23]  Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1.

Item on woman's tattoo

[24]  In the Authority's view, the item did not contain any upsetting images or material that could be considered gratuitous. The report focused on the actions of one woman who was campaigning for a law change in New Zealand, and did not endorse her position. The Authority notes that alternative comment was provided by the Bioethics Council Professor, who outlined some of the potential ethical problems raised by the woman's tattoo.

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

Standard 2 (law and order)

[26]  The Authority has stated on a number of occasions 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 (e.g. Decision No. 2005-133). In the Authority's view, neither item took a position on the issues of assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia. They simply presented the individual stories of the man and woman, as well as outlining the ethical issues surrounding the woman's tattoo and noting that assisted suicide was illegal in Britain.

[27]  Therefore, the Authority considers that the items did not encourage people to break the law nor did they promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity. It declines to uphold the Standard 2 complaint.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

Item on assisted suicide

[28]  Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them. The Authority has previously stated that unaccompanied children are unlikely to watch news programmes (see, for example, Decision No. 2009-009).

[29]  On this occasion, the item was preceded by a warning advising viewers and parents that the report showed a man in the final stages of his life and that some may find the footage distressing. In the Authority's view, the warning and the item's introduction provided sufficient opportunity for parents and caregivers to decide whether they wanted their children to watch.

[30]  As stated above in paragraph [22], the Authority finds that the item was tasteful, and it considers that the footage of the man would not have distressed or alarmed child viewers when accompanied by a parent or guardian.

[31]  Accordingly, the Authority is satisfied that TVWorks adequately considered the interests of children and it declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 9.

Item on woman's tattoo

[32]  Taking into account that unaccompanied children were unlikely to be viewing the news, the Authority considers that the report provided sufficient context to enable parents and caregivers to explain what the woman was doing and why. Further, the item did not contain any explicit or graphic images that would have distressed or alarmed child viewers.

[33]  In these circumstances, the Authority considers that the broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests and it declines to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
6 May 2009

Appendix

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

1.         Mary Pepping's formal complaint – 19 January 2009
2.        TVWorks’ decision on the formal complaint – 11 February 2009
3.        Ms Pepping's referral to the Authority – 17 February 2009
4.        Ms Pepping's final submission – 23 February 2009
5.        TVWorks' response to the Authority – 4 March 2009