BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Viewers for Television Excellence Inc and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-168

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainants
  • Viewers for Television Excellence Inc
  • (VoTE)
Number
2003-168
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
One News – item about death of Charles Bronson – obituary included film clips – unsuitable for children at that hour – violent

Findings
Standard 9 – context – no uphold

Standard 10 – care and discretion exercised – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The death of actor Charles Bronson was the subject of an item broadcast on One News, beginning at 6.00pm on 1 September 2003. During the item, brief clips from some of the films in which the actor had appeared in were shown, including a scene where one character is shot by another.

[2] Viewers for Television Excellence Inc (VOTE) complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that it was unacceptable to broadcast such a violent item during the news hour, and that the item was unsuitable for children.

[3] In response, TVNZ contended that the imagery neither posed a threat to child viewers nor breached broadcasting standards relating to violence. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, VOTE referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a videotape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] The death of actor Charles Bronson was the subject of an item broadcast on One News, beginning at 6.00pm on 1 September 2003. During the item, brief excerpts from some of the films in which the actor had appeared in were shown, including a scene where one character is shot by another.

The Complaint

[7] VOTE complained to TVNZ that it was “irresponsible and unacceptable” to broadcast such a violent item during a time when children could be expected to be watching television. Specifically, VOTE complained about a clip from the film Death Wish, which showed the actor “clearly shooting [another] person callously and in cold blood”. According to VOTE, the film clip could have been left out of the item without compromising the story. Alternatively, VOTE suggested that the item could have been broadcast in a later news bulletin.

The Standards

[8] TVNZ assessed the complaint against the Standards in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice nominated by VOTE. The Standards and relevant Guidelines read:

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.

Guidelines

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 10g

News, current affairs and factual programmes will, by their nature, often contain violent, disturbing or alarming material. Broadcasters should not falsify, by omission, a world in which much violence and brutality occurs. When such scenes are necessarily included to serve the public interest, the fact that violence has painful and bloody consequences should be made clear. However, editors and producers must use judgement and discretion in deciding the degree of graphic detail to be included in news programmes when children are likely to be watching. Warnings within news programmes must be used as appropriate.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] TVNZ did not uphold the complaint. In its opinion, it was appropriate to show sequences which reflected the type of characters which were played by Mr Bronson in his films. TVNZ considered that this could not have been done without “briefly indicating that his roles were of a hard and brutal nature”. TVNZ also considered it was made clear in the item that the sequences shown were film clips, drawn from works of “fiction and fantasy rather than reality”.

[10] Concerning Standard 9, TVNZ made three points. First, it observed that One News is not given a programme classification, although it screens during G time. It explained to the complainant that:
This is in recognition of the fact that if it is to fulfil its obligation to honestly and truthfully reflect what goes on in the world it must necessarily and frequently include images and concepts which are not only distressing but are often “adult” in nature. Because a programme screens in G time that should not be taken to mean that the programme is made for children or directed primarily at them.

[11] Secondly, TVNZ contended that the vast majority of children who watch the news at 6.00pm do so in the company of adults.

[12] Finally, TVNZ maintained that the item was “educational for a young person who might not otherwise be familiar with the actor”. It continued:

…there are many fairy stories with the potential to frighten children to a far greater degree than this news item comprising old film clips which were clearly cinematic fantasy - and were identified as being the work of an actor.

[13] Turning to Standard 10, TVNZ maintained it had used care and discretion in its choice of imagery and in the accompanying script.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[14] In its referral to the Authority, VOTE noted TVNZ’s observation that One News is unclassified and asked:
Is it true that they are not bound by the “watershed” in the Code in respect to early evening news?

[15] VOTE also said it considered “irrelevant” TVNZ’s comment that the news is not normally the first viewing choice for children. It maintained that it was nevertheless quite likely that children would watch the early news. Furthermore, in its view, the damage to children caused by the item would have been the same whether or not an adult was present.

[16] In VOTE’s opinion, the early news should be a “safe” time for children to be watching television. VOTE referred the Authority to research on violence which, it considered, supported its contention that the broadcast was unacceptable in its inclusion of “blatant and unnecessary violence”.

The Authority’s Determination

Standard 9

[17] Guideline 9a to Standard 9, the guideline nominated by the complainant, requires broadcasters to be mindful of the effect of programmes on children and to avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.

[18] The Authority does not consider that the material VOTE complained about was unacceptable for broadcast. In the Authority’s opinion the item was neither gratuitous nor sensational. Before any of the film clips were shown, the presenter explained that Mr Bronson was an actor known for appearing as brutal characters. In addition to this signposting, the material was clearly identified as a film clip. The footage was grainy and the film’s title appeared on screen as it played. Furthermore, the Authority observes that each of the clips featured in the item was brief and representative of Mr Bronson’s work, without visiting the more brutal extremes of his repertoire. The Authority concludes that the broadcaster had been mindful of the effect of the item on children. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint is not upheld.

Standard 10

[19] While the material screened was violent, the Authority considers that TVNZ exercised care and discretion in its choice of images for the reasons given above in paragraph

[20]. The Authority does not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

General observation about the news

[21] The Authority notes that the news is an unclassified programme, and special considerations apply when considering complaints about news broadcasts. These are designed to serve the public interest by ensuring that news need not always be sanitised and that broadcasters have appropriate editorial freedom. This does not mean, however, that broadcasting standards do not apply. It simply means that the content and context of each story is taken into account.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 December 2003

Appendix

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

1. Viewers for Television Excellence Inc’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – undated
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 10 October 2003
3. VOTE’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 22 October 2003
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 30 October 2003