Viewers for Television Excellence Inc and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-116
- Joanne Morris (Chair)
- Diane Musgrave
- Tapu Misa
- Paul France
- Viewers for Television Excellence Inc (VoTE)
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item about massacre of about 80 people in northern Kenya including 22 children – allegedly unnecessarily graphic and excessively violent, and breached children’s interests
Standard 9 and guidelines 9a, 9e, and 9f (children’s interests) – introduction provided signpost and themes handled with discretion – not upheld
Standard 10 and guideline 10g (violence) – discretion shown to exclude graphic material – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 A massacre in northern Kenya in which about 80 people were killed, including 22 children, was covered in a news item broadcast on One News on TV One beginning at 6.00pm on 16 July 2005.
 On behalf of Viewers for Television Excellence Inc. (VoTE), Glenyss Barker complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was too long and unnecessarily graphic for broadcast at that time. She pointed out that the item referred to the murder of a child aged just a few months, and showed scenes of blood and the lower part of a man’s body.
 Mrs Barker noted that children were encouraged by their teachers to watch the news, but they required protection from violent scenes that might disturb them.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under the nominated standards in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They read:
Standard 9 Children’s Interests
During children’s normally accepted viewing times, broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.
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.
9e Scenes and themes dealing with disturbing social and domestic friction or sequences in which people – especially children – or animals may be humiliated or badly treated, should be handled with care and sensitivity. All gratuitous material of this nature must be avoided and any scenes which are shown must pass the test of relevancy within the context of the programme. If thought likely to disturb children, the programme should be scheduled later in the evening.
9f “Scary" themes are not necessarily unsuitable for older children, but care should be taken to ensure that realistically menacing or horrifying imagery is not included.
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.
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.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 TVNZ explained that the ferocity of the attack was conveyed mostly through the reporter’s commentary. Noting that television was a visual medium and that it would be dishonest to sanitise horrible events, TVNZ wrote:
There were no images of dead children, one very brief image of the lower part of a man’s body, and indications of some bloodstains.
 TVNZ pointed out that the Television Code acknowledged that news broadcasts were subject neither to censorship nor classification. There was also a requirement to be mindful of child viewers but, TVNZ contended, children were not harmed by being told that people of all ages die from natural disasters or from the cruelty of others. Moreover, children had the right under the UN Convention on the Rights of Children to receive information of all kinds.
 Turning to the item which it said included stark descriptions but careful visual content, TVNZ accepted that it could disturb viewers of all ages. However, it was “unthinkable” to protect children from such events under Guideline 9a.
 Moreover, TVNZ said, it was neither gratuitous (under 9e) nor scary (under 9f).
 With regard to Standard 10, TVNZ stated:
… the item was carefully put together to reflect the extent and brutality of the event, but care and discretion was used in combining the commentary and imagery.
 It considered that a warning was inappropriate as it might suggest that viewers were being invited to ignore the plight of “tormented children in Africa”.
 In declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ concluded:
The [complaints] committee strongly disagreed with your view that this item did not have a place in TVNZ’s main news programme of the day. It clearly did and was a news event of considerable importance and public interest. Your suggestion that the item should have been placed in the ‘late news’ (a suggestion the committee could not accept) overlooked the fact that this was a Saturday evening.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mrs Barker referred the complaint on behalf of the complainant to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 Noting that the item was broadcast at about 6.30pm, some two hours before the AO watershed at 8.30pm, Mrs Barker said children were expected to be watching at that time, and their parents expected them to be protected from such scenes as occurred on this occasion. A brief commentary without graphic pictures, she wrote, would have been sufficient.
 Mrs Barker referred to research which, she said, disclosed that showing such material to children could lead to nightmares. Such material was not family viewing and, she argued, TVNZ should follow the BBC practice of two separate news presentations – one for families and a late one for adults.
 Referring to a reported remark by an earlier chair of the BSA, Mrs Barker said that both parents and broadcasters shared responsibility for what children viewed.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority
 Expressing the view that the massacre in Kenya was an item of broad public interest, TVNZ stated:
We hold strongly to the view that it would be morally indefensible to turn our backs on incidents such as these, wherever they occur, and especially when innocent children have been the victims of atrocities.
Complainant’s Final Comment
 In response to TVNZ’s comment about “turning our backs” on atrocities, Mrs Barker on behalf of the complainant emphasised that it was not asking TVNZ to turn its back. Rather, VoTE asked broadcasters to be “circumspect” on how it reported such events and, she added:
What we feel is important is that the ‘News’ is presented in an acceptable manner that does not cause damage to the viewers, especially early on in the evening when children are entitled to have protection from the kind of violent abuse they are at present being subjected to by TVNZ’s 6pm ‘News’ programmes. Sensationalism needs to be avoided.
 Mrs Barker reiterated the concerns expressed in the earlier correspondence and implored TVNZ to use “better judgement and discretion” when showing and discussing violent events.
 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.
 In recent years the Authority has determined a number of complaints that a news item screened in the news at 6.00pm was unnecessarily graphic and, sometimes, included excessive violence (for example decisions 2001-212, 2002-096, 2003-168, 2004-120 and 2005-042). VoTE has been the complainant on a number of those occasions.
 Having assessed the current complaint against the standards, and in light of its previous decisions, the Authority declines to uphold it. The Authority finds that TVNZ took appropriate care in editing the images, and that the item did not contain material which was alarming, gratuitous or excessively violent. It was not presented in a sensational manner. The Authority agrees with TVNZ that the item reflected the extent and brutality of the event, but showed the balance required by the standards.
 Turning to the guidelines cited by the complainant, the Authority considers that the themes were handled with care and discretion to avoid alarming child viewers, as required by guidelines 9a and 9e, and that realistically menacing or horrifying imagery was not included as required by guideline 9f. As for guideline 10g, the Authority considers that the broadcaster used judgement and discretion in deciding on the degree of graphic detail to be included in the item. The Authority finds that the broadcast did not breach either Standard 9 or Standard 10.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
28 November 2005
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- The Secretary (Mrs G A Barker) of Viewers For Television Excellence Inc (VoTE)’s complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 27 July 2005
- TVNZ’s Response to the complainant – 24 August 2005
- VoTE’s referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 15 September 2005
- TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 3 October 2005
- VoTE’s final comment – 19 October 2005