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Pryor and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2013-067

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Carlene Pryor
Number
2013-067
Programme
What Now
Channel/Station
TV2

Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

During a cat-themed episode of What Now, one of the presenters offered a number of wacky cures for his co-presenter’s cat allergy, including encouraging a dog to lick what appeared to be peanut butter off his face. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the programme made light of allergies and used a common food allergen, peanut butter, in a dangerous and irresponsible manner. The presenter was not allergic to peanuts and no mention was made of peanut allergies. It was unfortunate that peanut butter featured, given that peanuts are a common food allergen, but the food product was irrelevant; the point was to test dog saliva as a possible cure for the presenter’s cat allergy, and no attention was drawn to the actual product. What Now did not undermine the seriousness of the issue, but raised awareness of allergies in a way that would appeal to children, that was simplistic, humorous and entertaining.

Not Upheld: Responsible Programming                   


Introduction

[1]  During an episode of What Now which focused on cats, one of the presenters offered a number of wacky cures for his co-presenter’s cat allergy. The episode was broadcast on TV2 at 7am on Sunday 18 August 2013.

[2]  Carlene Pryor made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme treated the topic of allergies in an irresponsible and dangerous way. Ms Pryor said, ‘It is not unreasonable to expect children will copy what they’ve seen on TV because the possibility and severity of doing so was not made clear to them’.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the responsible programming standard, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the broadcast breach the responsible programming standard?

[5]  The responsible programming standard (Standard 8) requires that programmes are correctly classified, and not presented in such a way as to deceive or disadvantage viewers, or cause panic, unwarranted alarm or undue distress.

[6]  Ms Pryor’s primary concern was with the way the episode treated allergies. Specifically, she considered that the What Now team made light of allergies and used a common food allergen, peanut butter, in a dangerous and irresponsible manner. The complainant was worried that children would imitate the behaviour depicted by the programme presenters, putting children with allergies at serious risk.

[7]  TVNZ acknowledged that the ‘ingestion and sometimes proximity of peanuts (peanut butter) is dangerous for children with peanut allergies’, but said the What Now episode was about cats, not allergies, and the presenter who had peanut butter put on his face was not allergic to peanuts. It described the segments as ‘light-hearted and over-the-top’ and it considered this would have been obvious to most viewers. The broadcaster said it was not prohibited to show people eating peanut butter or trying to get a dog to eat peanut butter in G-rated programmes.

[8]  We understand that allergies, including food allergies, are a common medical condition and that exposure to allergens can have serious and potentially life-threatening consequences for sufferers. However, for the reasons expressed below, we are satisfied that, viewed objectively, the episode did not put children with allergies at risk, and would not have distressed most viewers in context.

[9]  The three-hour What Now episode was cats-themed, with a number of brief, interspersed segments discussing the presenter’s cat allergy, and the efforts of his co-presenter and best friend to cure his allergy using ‘old Samoan’ remedies. The cures were wacky, and to some extent reflected the notion that in real life a number of bizarre ‘folk’ remedies are often put forward for curing all types of conditions. The cures ranged from doing sit-ups while being slapped in the face with a dead fish, to drinking a fish and chocolate milkshake. The co-presenter explained that the use of fish was a form of ‘reverse psychology’ because cats like fish.

[10]  The segment which created the most controversy and formed the focus of the complaint showed the presenter lying on a couch with his eyes closed as his co-presenter put what appeared to be peanut butter on his face with a spoon. The co-presenters then tried to persuade a dog to lick the peanut butter off and leave saliva on his face so as to ward off cats. The presenter was not allergic to peanuts and no mention whatsoever was made of peanut allergies. It was unfortunate, but in our view coincidental, that peanut butter featured in the episode, given that peanuts are a common food allergen. However the food product used in the segment was irrelevant; the point was to test dog saliva as a possible cure for the presenter’s cat allergy, and no attention was drawn to the actual product.

[11]   Further, no one made fun of the fact the presenter was allergic to cats and it was clear his co-presenters were trying to be helpful in testing the wacky cures. What Now’s treatment of allergies did not demean or undermine the seriousness of the issue, but in fact raised awareness of allergies in a way that would appeal to children, that was simplistic, humorous and entertaining.

[12]   We think that the broadcaster and the What Now producer acted responsibly and sensitively by responding to parents’ concerns on the What Now Facebook page and by providing a full explanation of the content and the programme’s intention, in its decision on the complaint.

[13]   We are satisfied that the content of the episode was not inappropriate in a G-rated programme targeted at children, and would not have disadvantaged the audience or caused panic, unwarranted alarm or undue distress for objective viewers.

[14]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 8 was breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair

19 December 2013

Appendix

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

1       Carlene Pryor’s formal complaint – 19 August 2013

2      TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 13 September 2013

3      Mr Pryor’s referral to the Authority – 1 October 2013

4      TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 13 November 2013

5      Ms Pryor’s final comment – 19 November 2013