Petherick and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-054
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Michael Petherick
ProgrammeTVNZ News Now
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
TVNZ News Now – item contained footage of teenage girl beating another and two girls fighting – item was not preceded by a warning – broadcaster upheld the complaint under responsible programming, children’s interests and violence standards – action taken allegedly insufficient
Standard 8 (responsible programming), Standard 9 (children’s interests) and Standard 10 (violence) – item carried a high level of public interest and would have been acceptable for broadcast if preceded by a warning – TVNZ correct to uphold the complaint but action taken was sufficient in the circumstances – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 During TVNZ News Now, broadcast on TVNZ 7 at 8am on Sunday 27 March 2011, the news reader introduced a story, saying:
There’s serious concern from schools about the rise in physical violence among teenage girls. It comes after horrific footage emerged of a 15-year-old Whanganui girl being beaten unconscious by another student, a beating lasting almost 30 seconds, leaving 15-year-old [name] unconscious and bleeding from her ears. Her attacker, a girl from her class. Schools say fights like this are happening all too often.
 As the reporter said this, the footage was shown, of two teenage girls in school uniform, one repeatedly punching and kicking the other as she lay on the ground and struggled to get away. A comment was broadcast from a representative of the Secondary Principals Association in Sydney, and then video footage of another fight was shown, in which two girls wrestled and punched each other.
 Michael Petherick made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards relating to responsible programming, children’s interests and violence.
 Mr Petherick considered that the news item contained a “graphic depiction of extreme violence between children”. He noted that the news screened immediately after a two-hour line-up of programmes aimed at preschool children, and said that his four-year-old daughter found the news item “distressing and alarming”.
 Mr Petherick argued that the content was “highly inappropriate given the time of day, likely audience, and overall context of the programming”. He noted that there was no warning for violence and therefore no opportunity for parents to exercise discretion.
 The complainant considered that the scheduling of this item showed a “blatant disregard for children’s interests” in breach of Standard 9. He was of the view that the broadcaster did not exercise care or discretion when dealing with the issue of violence, as it decided to screen the item at a time when many children were likely to be watching. Mr Petherick also considered that the programme breached Standard 8 because there was no public interest in screening the item at that time, and it contained violent content likely to disturb a significant number of the intended audience, but was not preceded by a warning. However, in the complainant’s view, even if a warning had been broadcast, the item would have breached Standards 9 and 10 when broadcast at that time of day.
 Mr Petherick nominated Standards 8, 9 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. These provide:
Standard 8 Responsible Programming
Broadcasters should ensure programmes:
- are appropriately classified;
- display programme classification information;
- adhere to timebands in accordance with Appendix 1;
- are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress; and
- do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.
Standard 9 Children’s Interests
During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.
Standard 10 Violence
Broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant
 TVNZ accepted that the violent footage, particularly of a girl being attacked, should have been preceded by a warning. It said that a directive had been given in its Auckland newsroom that the footage, if used in news bulletins, should be preceded by a warning. It said that unfortunately, due to an oversight, this directive was not followed for TVNZ News Now.
 TVNZ therefore agreed that the interests of child viewers were not adequately considered, and it upheld the complaint under Standards 8, 9 and 10. TVNZ said that “the daily programmes editor is aware of [the] complaint and the... uphold and this complaint has been discussed with the TVNZ 7 news team leader”. It apologised unreservedly to the complainant for the error and any distress it caused, and assured him that steps had been taken so that it would not occur again. TVNZ said that the TVNZ 7 editor responsible was now aware of the need for verbal warnings if similar footage was screened in TVNZ News Now in future.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the action taken by the broadcaster, Mr Petherick referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 Mr Petherick said, “I believe that this footage should simply not have been broadcast at this particular time. I fail to understand how a 14-second broadcast of a ‘horrific beating’ of a child in uniform until she is unconscious can ever be in the interests of young preschool children who are viewing television early on a Sunday morning.”
 Noting that the footage of the attack had been released on the internet, Mr Petherick argued that “By broadcasting this example of extreme violence early on a Sunday morning, at a time when many children will have been watching, TVNZ have effectively compounded the ‘glory’ resulting from the attack – the audience reached by the attacker and [the person filming] will have been significantly increased.”
 In the complainant’s view, broadcasting a warning before the item would not have remedied the breaches of Standards 8, 9 and 10. He reiterated that broadcasting the footage was not in children’s interests, and he argued that a warning would be ineffective because many children are likely to be watching television early on a Sunday morning without supervision.
 Mr Petherick was also dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ to prevent similar breaches in the future. He considered that “TVNZ have not taken any real action – for example, by putting any processes or systems in place to ensure similar errors do not occur again”.
 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.
Action Taken: Standard 8 (responsible programming), Standard 9 (children’s interests) and Standard 10
 Our task on this occasion is to determine whether the broadcaster acted sufficiently and appropriately having upheld Mr Petherick’s complaint under Standards 8, 9 and 10.
 In our view, TVNZ was correct in upholding the complaint on the basis that the violent footage should have been preceded by a warning. However, we consider that there was sufficient public interest in alerting viewers to the level of violence taking place to justify the broadcast of the item in that timeslot, provided it was preceded by a warning. We note in this respect that the footage was widely broadcast across other media.
 Accordingly, we find that TVNZ acted appropriately and sufficiently in upholding the complaint, and discussing with the TVNZ 7 news team the need for verbal warnings to be used prior to screening the footage subject to complaint, or similar footage in future.
 We therefore decline to uphold the complaint that the action taken by TVNZ was insufficient.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
8 July 2011
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Michael Petherick’s formal complaint – 27 March 2011
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 27 April 2011
3 Mr Petherick’s referral to the Authority and further submissions – 27 and 29 April 2011
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 27 May 2011