Elliott and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1998-164
- S R Maling (Chair)
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- J Withers
- Coral Elliott
ProgrammeOne Network News
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
A no-smacking programme developed by the Children Young Persons and their Families Service was the subject of an item on One Network News broadcast on 24 September 1998 between 6.00–7.00pm. It included file footage showing a Pacific Island woman beating a young boy.
Ms Elliott complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the segment showing the woman beating the child was entirely at variance with the rest of the item and asked whether its purpose was to reinforce a racist stereotype about Pacific Island people and violence. In her view, the woman and the Pacific Island community were owed an apology.
TVNZ responded that because smacking was a common form of discipline in the Pacific Island community, some resistance to the CYPFS campaign was expected from that quarter. In its view, the sequence was not irrelevant in that context. It did not find that the item was unfair to the woman, as she had known at the time she disciplined the child that she was being filmed. It reassured Ms Elliott that the footage would only be used when its use could be justified, as on this occasion.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Elliott referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence, a list of which is appended to this Decision. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
It was reported in an item broadcast on One Network News on 24 September 1998 that the Children Young Persons and Their Families Service had initiated a no-smacking programme to encourage parents to choose other forms of discipline when dealing with their children. Reference was made to the resistance expected from the Pacific Island community, which it was said commonly used smacking as a form of discipline. In association with that comment, file footage showed a Pacific Island woman beating a child in her care. That incident, filmed during the compilation of another item, had resulted in the woman being charged with a criminal offence.
Ms Elliott complained to TVNZ that the footage of the woman beating a young boy was "completely at variance" with the rest of the item, and questioned whether its motive in using it was to reinforce a racist stereotype about Pacific Island people and violence. Ms Elliott emphasised that she did not condone the woman’s behaviour, and noted that she had been convicted and sentenced to prison for the incident. In Ms Elliott’s view, the footage had little relevance to the item, and she contended that it was unjust to the woman and to the Pacific Island community to have included it, particularly as the incident occurred some years ago. In her final comment to the Authority, she suggested that the footage was used to divert debate from the real issue of developing alternatives to smacking when disciplining children.
In its response, TVNZ advised that it had assessed the complaint under standards G4 and G13 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards require broadcasters:
G4 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any programme.
G13 To avoid portraying people in a way which represents as inherently inferior, or is likely to encourage discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation or the holding of any religious, cultural or political belief. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:
the expression of genuinely-held opinion in a news or current affairs programme, or
in the legitimate context of a humorous, satirical or dramatic work.
TVNZ rejected the contention that the segment was irrelevant in the context of the item. It submitted that it properly illustrated that there was a considerable gap between the aims of the campaign and the cultural practices of some Pacific Island communities. It also recalled that, at the time, the woman defended her action by pointing to it being a traditional form of discipline. Further, TVNZ noted that a Pacific Island spokesperson who was advising the Children Young Persons and Their Families Service acknowledged in the item that his community would be faced with some difficulties in adopting alternative methods of discipline.
As far as standard G4 was concerned, TVNZ did not believe that the item was unfair to the woman. It pointed out that at the time the incident occurred, she was aware that she was being filmed, but nevertheless proceeded to discipline the child in the way she did. The incident generated nationwide debate, it noted, and in addition led to the woman being convicted for her actions. In TVNZ’s view, the incident could not simply be forgotten and, it argued, it was appropriate on this occasion to recall the incident in the context of the new campaign. TVNZ reassured Ms Elliott that the footage was tagged to ensure that it was only used when strictly relevant to the story being told.
TVNZ denied that the item represented Pacific Island people as "inherently inferior". It submitted that it was factually correct to state that smacking was a traditional form of discipline in those communities, and neither unjust nor unfair to point out that the campaign for an alternative to smacking might meet some resistance there. It declined to uphold the complaint.
By way of final comment, Ms Elliott emphasised that, given the item’s theme, she would have expected the debate to have centred on alternatives to smacking when disciplining children, rather than to focus on the much publicised beating of a young boy. In her view, the woman and Pacific Island communities in New Zealand deserved an apology from TVNZ.
The Authority’s Findings
The Authority deals first with the complaint that it was unfair both to the woman and to Pacific Islands communities that the item included file footage of an incident which had been the subject of censure and opprobrium when it was filmed some years ago. The complainant had questioned the motive of TVNZ in using it to illustrate the current story.
The Authority notes that the item had focused on the initiative of the Children Young Persons and Their Families Service to encourage parents and caregivers to use an alternative to smacking, and that it identified the Pacific Islands community as a possible source of resistance to that campaign. As explained by the Pacific Islands spokesperson, smacking was a traditional form of discipline among his people. In that context, the Authority was asked to consider whether the use of the file footage of a young boy being severely beaten was of relevance to the item and whether it was unfair on the woman or on Pacific Islanders. Upon consideration, the Authority concludes that the footage was used for the legitimate purpose of illustrating the potential magnitude of the problem understood to exist among Pacific Island groups, and to underscore the importance of encouraging an alternative approach to discipline. The Authority acknowledges that it was an extreme example, but recalls that the incident had been widely publicised at the time it occurred. As for whether that was unfair to the woman, the Authority notes that she apparently consented to the filming at the time, that she was not identified by name, and that the clip was relatively brief. It is not persuaded that a breach of standard G4 occurred here.
The Authority also interprets the complaint as suggesting that the item was unfair to Pacific Island people in the context of standard G13. It notes that the group had been identified as being one which might resist the proposed measures. In that context it finds no unfairness nor any implication that the item encouraged viewers to perceive Pacific Islanders as inherently inferior or to encourage discrimination against them. It therefore declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
10 December 1998
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined the complaint:
1. Coral Elliott’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 3 October 1998
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 22 October 1998
3. Ms Elliott’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 8 November 1998
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 12 November 1998
5. Ms Elliott’s Final Comment – 23 November 1998