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Smith and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-018

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Moira Smith
Number
2008-018
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Promo for Criminal Minds – two versions of the promo were broadcast – both versions referred to a “prolific serial killer” and showed a person’s throat being drawn on with a blue pen – one referred to the serial killer removing the limbs of his victims while they were alive and showed a body part lying in the desert – allegedly in breach of standards of programme classification, children’s interests, and violence

Findings
Standard 7 (programme classification) – promos contained adult themes – both versions were deserving of a higher classification – upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – promos incorrectly classified and contained gruesome adult themes – upheld

Standard 10 (violence) – subsumed into consideration of Standards 7 and 9

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   A promo for Criminal Minds, a fictional drama about the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit, was broadcast during One News on TV One at 6.20pm on Tuesday 25 December 2007. A slightly shorter version of the promo was screened during Hunger for the Wild on TV One between 7.00pm and 7.30pm on Thursday 27 December 2007.

[2]   The promo that screened during One News included:

  • a male character saying, “the most prolific serial killer ever”
  • a female character saying, “he’s killed hundreds of people all over North America”
  • a shot of someone’s hands, wearing surgical gloves, dragging a blue pen across a person’s chest and then throat
  • a male character saying, “the victims were alive when he cut off their limbs”, which was accompanied by a shot of investigators examining a body part lying in the
    desert
  • a close-up shot of part of a female face, with her eye wide open
  • the killer placing a bag on a table and saying “What’s the psychopath got in the bag, Jason?” to an FBI agent.

[3]   The promo that was broadcast during Hunger for the Wild included:

  • a male character saying, “the most prolific serial killer ever"
  • a shot of someone’s hands, wearing surgical gloves, dragging a blue pen across a person’s chest and then throat
  • the killer placing a bag on a table and saying “What’s the psychopath got in the bag, Jason?” to an FBI agent.

Complaint

[4]   Moira Smith made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the promos breached Standards 7, 9 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. She maintained that the promos discussed the work of a “prolific serial killer” and showed a person’s throat being sliced with a scalpel. She said they contained images that would have disturbed both adults and children and should not have been screened so early in the evening.

Standards

[5]   Ms Smith nominated Standards 7, 9 and 10 and guidelines 7c, 9a and 10c in her complaint. These provide:

Standard 7 Programme Classification

Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programmes are appropriately classified, adequately display programme classification information, and adhere to time-bands in accordance with Appendix 1.

Guideline 7c

Where a promo screens in an unclassified host programme outside AO time (including news and current affairs), the promo must be classified G or PGR and broadcasters must pay particular regard to Standard 9 (Children’s Interests).

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.
          Guideline 9a
Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.

Standard 10 Violence

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

Guideline 10c
When compiling promos (trailers), broadcasters should be mindful that scenes containing incidents of violence or other explicit material which may be acceptable when seen in the total context of a programme may, when extracted and shown out of context for promotional purposes, be unacceptable in terms of both the standards and the time-band in question.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   The broadcaster emphasised that the two broadcasts complained about by Ms Smith consisted of two different versions of the promo. It said that the promo screened during One News showed someone using a pen to draw a blue line on a human body, discussed a serial killer dismembering his victims while they were alive, and showed a brief shot of a body part found in the desert. TVNZ said the body part was not shown in close-up and was not particularly gruesome.

[7]   The broadcaster maintained that the promo that screened during Hunger for the Wild showed a person drawing on a human body. It said it discussed the hunt for a serial killer, but did not mention the victims being dismembered or show footage of human remains.

[8]   Turning to Standard 7 and guideline 7c, TVNZ considered the host programmes during which the promo was screened. It noted that One News had been recognised by the Authority to be “default PGR” as children tend to watch it with a parent or adult. It argued that news broadcasts often discuss serious crimes and other events where people are killed, so it could be expected that the broadcasts might show footage including bodies and accidents. TVNZ pointed out that the same episode of One News on 25 December contained footage from a “killer snowstorm” in which 19 people had died.

[9]   TVNZ said Hunger for the Wild was a G-rated cooking programme about wild food, which sometimes contained mild coarse language and footage of animals being hunted and killed. It noted that the programme was aimed at an adult audience.

[10]   The broadcaster maintained that the promos were correctly rated. The longer version during One News was rated PGR and screened in a default PGR zone, it said, while the shorter version was rated “hard G”, meaning it could screen in G-rated programmes not aimed at children. TVNZ argued that neither promo contained material that was inappropriate for the host programme in which it screened. It reiterated that neither version showed a person’s throat being sliced with a scalpel. Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

[11]   With regard to Standard 9, TVNZ argued that it had considered the interests of child viewers when the promo was scheduled according to its content (in other words, depending on which version of the promo was being screened) in either PGR-rated programmes and the news, or G programmes not aimed at children. Accordingly, TVNZ found no breach of Standard 9.

[12]   For the same reasons, TVNZ argued it had exercised care and discretion when dealing with the theme of violence, and declined to uphold the Standard 10 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[13]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Smith referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[14]   Ms Smith contended that the promos were “gruesome”, and maintained that the advertisements were edited to appear particularly graphic and gruesome and to make it look as if the victim’s throat was cut by a scalpel.

[15]   The complainant was dissatisfied with TVNZ’s argument that the news was gruesome anyway. She argued that the way the promos were edited and accompanied by music made them more likely to catch children’s or young adults’ attention than the news.

[16]   Finally, Ms Smith believed that, taken out of context, the content of the promos was gruesome and disturbing, particularly for children. She said that although her children were supervised when watching the news, they would rarely, if ever, see or hear about a serial killer dismembering his victims while they were alive, see body parts in the desert, or see someone’s head being pulled back and what appears to be a scalpel (or pen) being dragged across their throat. She said that this kind of material was not suitable for viewing before the 8.30pm AO watershed.

Authority's Determination

[17]   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.

Standard 7 (programme classification)

[18]   Looking at guideline 7c, the Authority considers that the promo broadcast during One News was not correctly classified.

[19]   In the Authority’s view, it was not clear in the promo that the person’s throat was being drawn on with a pen as opposed to being sliced with a scalpel. In either case, combined with the references to dismemberment, the shot portrayed a sinister act with the implication of the person’s throat being cut.

[20]   The references to the serial killer cutting off people’s limbs, images of a body part, a female victim’s eye, and a person’s throat being marked, particularly when shown out of the context of the whole programme, conveyed very grim themes which were unsuitable for children. In the Authority’s view, the promo should have been classified Adults Only, and broadcast after 8.30pm.

[21]   The Authority considers that the promo broadcast during Hunger for the Wild was also classified incorrectly. While there was less detail than in the 25 December promo, it contained the references to the serial killer, and images of a pen being dragged across a person’s throat and chest, which carried the implications of decapitation and dismemberment. The Authority considers that this version of the promo should have been classified PGR, rather than G, as it was not suitable for unaccompanied child viewers.

[22]   Accordingly, the Authority upholds the complaint that the promos breached Standard 7.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[23]   Ms Smith referred to guideline 9a in her complaint, which requires broadcasters to be mindful of the effect any promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times, and to avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them. Guideline 7c to Standard 7 also requires that broadcasters pay particular regard to Standard 9 when screening promos during unclassified host programmes.

[24]   Having determined that both promos, which screened during children’s normally accepted viewing times, contained adult themes and were inappropriately classified, the Authority is satisfied that the broadcaster did not adequately consider the interests of children in broadcasting the promos during One News at 6pmand the G-rated programme Hunger for the Wild.

[25]   The Authority upholds the complaint that Standard 9 was breached.

Standard 10 (violence)

[26]   The Authority considers that Ms Smith’s concerns have been adequately dealt with under Standards 7 and 9. Accordingly, the Authority subsumes its consideration of Standard 10 into its consideration of those standards.

Bill of Rights

[27]   The Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching its determination. The  Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act’s requirement that limits on freedom of expression must be prescribed by law, be reasonable, and be demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.



For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of the promos for Criminal Minds on 25 December and 27 December 2007 breached Standards 7 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[28]   Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It does not intend to impose an order on this occasion.

[29]   The Authority notes that it has been several years since it has upheld a complaint about promos on TVNZ. It hopes that this decision will serve as a reminder to broadcasters to take care when classifying promos for AO programmes, and broadcasting them during G-rated host programmes and the early evening news. The Authority considers that the publication of its decision is sufficient to clarify its expectations in that regard.   

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
26 May 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Moira Smith’s formal complaint – 27 December 2007
2.           TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 31 January 2008
3.           Ms Smith’s referral to the Authority – 15 February 2008
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 18 April 2008