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Harrop and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2007-063

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Graham Harrop of Christchurch

Dated

4th December 2007

Number

2007-063

Programme

Studentville

Channel/Station

C4

Broadcaster

CanWest TVWorks Ltd


CanWest TVWorks Ltd became TVWorks Ltd on 15 June 2007. Because the programme complained about was broadcast prior to this date, the broadcaster is still named as CanWest TVWorks Ltd.


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

The Complaint
A viewer described the programme Studentville, which showed footage of students drinking and at various stages of intoxication during the "Uni Games", as a 30-minute advertisement for binge drinking.  He complained that the message of the programme was "have fun by binge drinking", and this breached standards for socially responsible liquor promotion, and law and order.

The Broadcaster's Response
CanWest said the Studentville series recorded the life of students from all university campuses throughout the year. Many of the events and parties shown during the series had featured students drinking to excess, and this was part of the New Zealand university culture. The broadcaster said the programme makers had made sure that minimal liquor promotion was shown. It had smudged the beer bottle logo and sign identified by the complainant. It maintained that excessive liquor consumption had not been advocated by the programme, although the drinking behaviour of some of the students and the natural consequences of drinking had been shown.

The Authority's Decision
The Authority found that Studentville advocated liquor consumption in a manner that was not socially responsible. The Authority said that the programme not only implicitly condoned the consumption of liquor, but in fact presented it in a positive light and as a necessary part of attending the "Uni Games". The programme paid scant attention to the sports games, and when the reporter did turn to the sports fields, participants were questioned almost exclusively about their previous or intended alcohol consumption.

The Authority noted the footage of a young man pouring a substantial quantity of vodka-based drink into his mouth, the "mandatory Scrumpy hands" where bottles of cider were taped to the hands of students to be consumed during a sports match, and comments such as, "It's all about getting really pissed".

The Authority said that the programme portrayed the consumption of excessive amounts of liquor as enjoyable and acceptable, while the negative effects of drinking to excess were minimised. It did not accept that the widespread and obvious abuse of alcohol shown on the programme did not result in illness, violence, injury or any of the other well-known negative effects of excessive consumption.

Standard 11 (liquor) – upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   Studentville, broadcast on C4 at 10pm on 23 April 2007, covered events at the 2007 "Uni Games" held at Canterbury University. The games involved students from all New Zealand universities participating in a variety of sporting events.

[2]   The programme showed a series of events and parties in which students were shown drinking and at various levels of intoxication. At one point in the episode, a male student was seen pouring a drink that appeared to be vodka into his mouth straight from the bottle. Many of the students also spoke about having drunk to excess the night before their sporting events.

Complaint

[3]   Graham Harrop made a formal complaint about the programme to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster. He described the programme as a 30 minute advertisement for binge drinking. Mr Harrop noted in particular the segment showing a male student "necking neat vodka out of the bottle, commentary joking about alcoholism and hangovers, and a student saying ’it’s mostly about getting pissed’".

[4]   The complainant also observed that Studentville had two logos. One was a beer bottle shown to the sound of a belch, and the other was a banner saying "Warning - Stop what you are doing. Your pub needs you". In Mr Harrop’s view, the message of the programme was "have fun by binge drinking".

Standards

[5]   CanWest assessed the complaint under Standards 2 and 11 of the Free-to-Air Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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.

Guideline 2e

The realistic portrayal of anti-social behaviour, including violent and serious crime and the abuse of liquor and drugs, should not be shown in a way that glamorises these activities.

Standard 11 Liquor

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters must observe restrictions on the promotion of liquor appropriate to the programme genre being broadcast. Liquor Promotion should be socially responsible and must not encourage consumption by people who are under the legal age to purchase liquor.

Definition

Liquor Promotion comprises:

  • promotion of a liquor product, brand or outlet (’promotion’)
  • liquor sponsorship of a programme (’sponsorship’)
  • advocacy of liquor consumption (’advocacy’)

Guidelines

11b Broadcasters must ensure that Liquor Promotion does not dominate programmes.

11g In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters must avoid advocacy of excessive liquor consumption.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]  CanWest noted that the Studentville series had recorded the life of students from all university campuses throughout the year. Many of the events and parties shown during the series had featured students drinking to excess, it said, which was part of the New Zealand university culture.

[7]  The broadcaster stated that the programme makers had made sure that all incidental liquor promotion had been avoided as much as possible when filming the series. It wrote that the beer bottle logo complained about had its label smudged, and the banner reading "Warning - stop what you are doing. Your pub needs you" was not a liquor logo as no liquor product was shown.

[8]   CanWest noted that the programme was broadcast at 10pm and had been rated with an AO 9.30pm classification. These programmes, it said, contained "stronger material or special elements which fall outside the AO classification".

[9]   Turning to consider Standard 2 (law and order), the broadcaster said that the Authority had found that the law and order standard directs broadcasters to ensure that they must not encourage viewers to break the law. It wrote:

Nothing in the footage of Studentville including the "after party" segments actively encourages viewers to break the law and in fact no law had been broken by any of the people at the after party, or by the screening of the programme. While some of the drinking behaviour was to excess the intended target audience would be able to draw their own conclusions about the appropriateness of such behaviour - the negative effects of drinking to excess were clearly shown i.e. it was not glamorised in any way.

[10]   In CanWest’s view, the type of behaviour that occurred was typical of such events and was not outside what the target audience would expect to see in this type of programme. It found that Standard 2 was not breached.

[11]   Looking at the liquor standard, the broadcaster reiterated that the programme makers had ensured that minimal liquor promotion was shown. Excessive liquor consumption was not advocated or caused by the programme, it said, although the drinking behaviour of some of the students and the natural consequences of drinking were shown. CanWest maintained that the smudged beer bottle and sign identified by the complainant did not constitute incidental liquor promotion, and they did not advocate excessive liquor consumption. It declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Harrop referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[13]   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 11 (liquor)

[14]   There is a two-stage test involved in determining whether there has been a breach of Standard 11 (liquor). The Authority must first decide whether the broadcast constituted "liquor promotion" and, if it did, the Authority must then consider whether the liquor promotion was socially responsible.

[15]   Looking at the first limb of the test, the Authority notes that Standard 11 defines "liquor promotion" as:

  • promotion of a liquor product, brand or outlet
  • liquor sponsorship of a programme
  • advocacy of liquor consumption.

[16]  As the first two definitions clearly do not apply, the question becomes whether the broadcast "advocated liquor consumption". In the Authority’s view, the programme portrayed the consumption of liquor by young people at the "Uni Games" as an integral part of attending the event. The programme paid limited attention to the sports games and, when the reporter did attend the sports fields, participants were questioned almost exclusively about their previous or intended alcohol consumption.

[17]  In these circumstances, the Authority considers that the broadcast not only implicitly condoned the consumption of liquor, but in fact presented it in a positive light and as a necessary part of attending the Uni Games. For this reason the Authority finds that the broadcast amounted to the advocacy of liquor consumption for the purposes of Standard 11.

[18]  Having concluded that the programme advocated liquor consumption, the Authority must next determine whether this advocacy was socially responsible. In assessing this question, it notes that the amount of alcohol being consumed by many of the students was clearly excessive. For example, the Authority notes the footage of a young man shown pouring a substantial quantity of a vodka-based drink into his mouth, and the "mandatory Scrumpy hands" where bottles of cider were taped to the hands of sports players to be consumed during a match. The programme also contained comments from students such as "It’s all about getting really pissed" and "I had training tonight, it didn’t happen. We got on the piss - we had six bongs1". Further, the consumption of excessive amounts of liquor was portrayed as being enjoyable and acceptable. In the Authority’s view, this was particularly inappropriate given that C4 targets an audience between 15 and 29 years of age, many of whom fall within the demographic seen to be at risk from binge drinking.

[19]  The broadcaster has argued that "the negative effects of drinking to excess were clearly shown" in the programme. The Authority disagrees. Apart from one young man who did not remember having stolen a shop‘s cash till the previous evening while drunk, and who was now banned from social events, the only consequences shown in the programme were intoxication and, the next day, a rueful but nevertheless enjoyable common experience of a hangover. The Authority does not accept that such widespread and obvious abuse of alcohol did not result in illness, violence, injury, or any of the other well-known negative effects of drinking.

[20]  The Authority acknowledges that binge drinking occurs at events such as the Uni Games. However, its task on this occasion is to assess whether broadcasting footage of that behaviour amounted to a breach of the liquor standard. Taking into account the factors outlined above, the Authority finds that the programme advocated the consumption of liquor in a manner that was not socially responsible. Accordingly, it upholds the Standard 11 (liquor) complaint.

Standard 2 (law and order)

[21]   In the Authority’s view, the complainant’s concern about the abuse of liquor in this episode of Studentville has already been appropriately dealt with in its consideration of the liquor standard. Accordingly, the Authority subsumes the Standard 2 complaint into its consideration of Standard 11.

Bill of Rights

[22]   For the avoidance of doubt, 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 this determination. For the reasons given above, the Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast of an episode of Studentville on C4 on 23 April 2007 by CanWest TVWorks Ltd breached Standard 11 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[23]  Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act. It invited submissions on orders from the parties.

[24]  The Authority did not receive any submissions on orders from Mr Harrop.

[25]  The broadcaster submitted that this was the first time that the Authority had upheld a complaint under Standard 11 for a programme such as Studentville and, in these circumstances it argued that the publication of the decision would be sufficient.

[26]  The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that it would not be appropriate to make an order on this occasion. The decision canvasses novel issues surrounding the broadcast of real life events involving the advocacy of liquor consumption, and the Authority considers that the publication of its decision will serve to clarify its expectations in this area.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 December 2007

Appendix

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

1.            Graham Harrop’s formal complaint – 25 April 2007
2.           CanWest’s decision on the formal complaint – 28 May 2007
3.           Mr Harrop’s referral to the Authority – 27 June 2007
4.           CanWest’s response to the Authority – 31 July 2007
5.           CanWest’s submissions on orders – 17 November 2007


1A bong is a funnel device used to rapidly consume a large amount of liquid, most commonly beer, in a short space of time.