BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Sandford and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2010-105

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Robert Sandford
SKY Sport 1

Complaint under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
SKY Sport 1 – Rugby test match between New Zealand and South Africa – a South African player was shown head-butting a New Zealand player – footage repeated three times – allegedly in breach of violence standard


Standard P4 (Violence) – footage not repeated gratuitously – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   A rugby test match between New Zealand and South Africa was broadcast on SKY Sport 1 at 7.30pm on Saturday 10 July 2010.

[2]   In the opening minutes of the match, one of the South African players head-butted a New Zealand player in the back of the head after tackling him from behind. The referees did not see the infringement and the game continued. Shortly after, play was stopped due to a penalty and footage of the head butt was repeated three times.

[3]   While the footage was being repeated, the commentators briefly spoke about the incident with one saying, “The citing commissioner will have something to say about that I’m sure”.


[4]   Robert Sandford made a formal complaint to SKY Network Television Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the repetition of footage showing the player being head-butted breached broadcasting standards.

[5]   The complainant argued that the broadcast had contained “Adult only violence” which was shown multiple times. He argued that such footage should not be shown at times when children could be watching.


[6]   Standard P4 and guideline 4e of the Pay Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They provide:

Standard P4 Violence

Violent content should be appropriate to the context of the programme and classified carefully in accordance with Standard P1.

Guideline 4(e)

Violent incidents during or surrounding play in sporting coverage should not be gratuitously repeated.

Referral to the Authority

[7]   Having received no response from the broadcaster within the statutory timeframe, Mr Sandford referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[8]   SKY noted that rugby was a contact sport and that the head-butting incident occurred on field during the game. It argued that foul play occurred regularly during rugby matches and that such play was penalised.

[9]   The broadcaster pointed out that the incident occurred “out in the open” and contended that “no broadcaster in the world would have ignored this incident and chosen not to broadcast it”.

[10]   SKY said that the footage of the head butting sequence was shown three times and that, as a result of the coverage, the offending player had been suspended for nine weeks. It stated that foul play was not just restricted to rugby and that incidents of this type occurred in a variety of contact sports.

[11]   The broadcaster was of the view that showing the footage of the head-butt was appropriate in the context of the programme, and it declined to uphold the complaint that Standard P4 had been breached.

Authority's Determination

[12]   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.

Procedural Matter

[13]   The Broadcasting Act 1989 provides that broadcasters must respond to formal complaints within 20 working days by notifying complainants of their decision on the complaint. In this instance, SKY failed to respond to the complainant within the required statutory timeframe.

[14]   We remind SKY of its obligations under the Broadcasting Act 1989 and expect that the broadcaster will respond to all formal complaints in future.

Standard P4 (violence)

[15]   Standard P4 states that violent content should be appropriate to the context of the programme and classified carefully in accordance with Standard P1. Guideline 4e to the standard says that violent incidents during or surrounding play in sporting coverage should not be gratuitously repeated.

[16]   As pointed out by SKY, the head-butting incident occurred on the field and during the match. In our view, it is commonplace to highlight such incidents during live sports broadcasts, as they form part of, and can impact on, the game.

[17]   We also note that the footage was only repeated three times, showing the incident from different camera angles, as is the custom for any interesting aspect of a rugby game when broadcast live. The purpose of this is not to accentuate or dwell on the violence, but to give viewers a clearer picture of what happened given the split-second nature of these kinds of incidents. The footage was subsequently used in a disciplinary hearing in which the offending South African player was suspended for nine weeks.

[18]   On this occasion, we consider that the repetition of the footage was not gratuitous when taken in the context of a broadcast showing a live rugby match. Accordingly, we decline to uphold Mr Sandford’s complaint that Standard P4 was breached.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
23 November 2010


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

1.           Robert Sandford’s formal complaint – 13 July 2010

2.          Mr Sandford’s referral to the Authority – 23 August 2010

3.          SKY’s response to the Authority – 11 October 2010