Ross and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2005-035
- Joanne Morris (Chair)
- Diane Musgrave
- Tapu Misa
- Paul France
- Stephen Ross
BroadcasterCanWest TVWorks Ltd
Channel/StationTV3 # 2
Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sports Tonight – reporter interviewing supermarket staff and patrons – ate a lolly from one of the bulk bins – allegedly in breach of law and order
Standard 2 (law and order) – light-hearted prank – viewers not encouraged to break the law – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An episode of Sports Tonight broadcast on TV3 at 11.15pm on 11 March 2005 featured a reporter interviewing supermarket staff and patrons about sports trivia. During the segment, the reporter ate a lolly from one of the bulk bins.
 Stephen Ross complained to CanWest TVWorks Limited, the broadcaster, that the actions of the reporter had amounted to theft under the Crimes Act 1961. By broadcasting the item to “the easily influenced public”, he contended, CanWest had endorsed the reporter’s actions.
 Mr Ross contended that the broadcast was not consistent with the maintenance of law and order, as it had shown people how to commit a crime. He argued that the item depicted the reporter’s actions in a light-hearted manner, which suggested that it was acceptable behaviour and invited imitation. Mr Ross also questioned whether the lolly had been paid for by the reporter.
 CanWest assessed the complaint under Standard 2 and Guidelines 2a and 2c of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:
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.
2a Broadcasters must respect the principles of law which sustain our society.
2c Programmes should not depict or describe techniques of crime in a manner which invites imitation.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 In its response, CanWest observed that the Authority had found Standard 2 directs broadcasters to ensure that they do not actively encourage viewers to break the law. On this occasion, CanWest found that Standard 2 was not breached.
 The broadcaster noted that Sports Tonight had permission from the Head Office and Store Manager to film in the supermarket. It was clear from the footage that plenty of staff were present when the filming took place, CanWest said.
 CanWest contended that the item was clearly light-hearted in nature and was not intended as a “guide” on how to commit a crime. It said that the adult audience viewing the programme at 11.15pm would understand that the reporter’s actions were intended to be seen as “a bit of silliness”.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Ross referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained his view that the broadcast was in breach of Standard 2 (law and order), and noted that CanWest had not responded to his question about whether the lolly had been paid for.
 Mr Ross noted that theft by customers and staff was a serious problem which impacted on New Zealand’s economy. Whether or not the Sports Tonight team had permission to be in the supermarket was irrelevant, he said, as the staff were not in view when the reporter took the lolly.
 The complainant said that while it may not have been CanWest’s intention to give a “guide” on how to commit a crime, it had done so. People who had not previously considered stealing from bulk bins had been shown how easy it was, he said. He added:
And it is because of its “light-hearted nature” that they suggest it is ok to be a bit cheeky and steal from the bins as long as you’re just having a laugh. They are making light of a serious problem and suggesting this action is acceptable in our society.
 Mr Ross disagreed with CanWest’s contention that the viewing public would understand that the broadcast was just “silliness”. He asserted that adults could be influenced by the broadcast. The complainant felt that CanWest saw his complaint as a trivial matter, but argued that the problem would grow exponentially. Viewers would see the reporter’s actions and might believe that they were acceptable, Mr Ross said.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority
 In its response to the Authority, CanWest reiterated that the retailer had permitted the filming, including the action which caused the complainant concern. Further, the retailer had not raised any issues with the broadcaster in relation to the matter.
 CanWest did not accept that viewers of the late night programme would be encouraged to depart from law abiding practices by the presenter’s actions. If adults were so easily led, it contended, most television crime drama could not be screened without breaching Standard 2.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 The Authority finds that the presenter’s actions transparently amounted to a light-hearted prank, a “bit of silliness” in CanWest’s words. Further, the Authority observes that there was no statement or action in the broadcast which encouraged viewers to imitate his behaviour.
Accordingly, the Authority concludes that Standard 2 was not breached.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
30 June 2005
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Stephen Ross’ formal complaint – 11 March 2005
- CanWest’s decision on the formal complaint – 28 April 2005
- Mr Ross’ referral to the Authority – 4 May 2005
- CanWest’s response to the Authority – 13 May 2005