BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Alexander and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2023-076 (29 November 2023)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
  • Sue Alexander


[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

An item on Paddy Gower Has Issues investigated the predator control of feral cats, and discussed whether or not feral cats should be included in the Predator Free 2050 strategy. The broadcast included footage of feral cats being trapped and shot, and people carrying, and holding up the carcasses. The Authority did not uphold the complaint the broadcast breached multiple standards, finding relevant footage was clearly signposted by the host, who provided two warnings to viewers about the content. Viewers were therefore given a reasonable opportunity to make a different viewing choice for themselves or children in their care. The footage depicted no undue cruelty or suffering, and while some viewers may have found it unpleasant to watch, the broadcast of hunting and pest control footage is generally acceptable in New Zealand provided it does not depict undue cruelty. Under the balance standard, the Authority found the broadcast sufficiently alerted the audience to the existence of other perspectives. The Authority found the fairness and promotion of illegal or antisocial behaviour standards either were not breached, or did not apply.

Not Upheld: Offensive and Disturbing Content, Children’s Interests, Fairness, Promotion of Illegal or Antisocial Behaviour, and Balance

The broadcast

[1]  An episode of Paddy Gower Has Issues on 5 July 2023 featured a segment on the control of the feral cat population. It included discussion on the impact feral cats have on native species; concerns that feral cats were not addressed in the Department of Conservation | Te Papa Atawhai Predator Free 2050 strategy; an interview with the chief scientific officer of the SPCA who stated, for what appeared to be the first time publically, that the SPCA supported the humane euthanising of feral cats; and an interview with then Minister of Conservation Willow-Jean Prime, who discussed the possibility of cats being included in the Predator Free 2050 strategy, dependent on a review in 2024.

[2]  The broadcast also included footage of farmers, conservationists and hunters trapping and shooting feral cats (as well as one possum); footage of adults and children holding up or carrying dead cats; and clips of dead cats, deer, possums and wild pigs at a hunting competition.

[3]  During the introduction to the story, Gower stated: ‘and a warning. Nothing gory but some of what you’re about to see will be quite confronting for some people.’ Later in the broadcast Gower again stated to the audience: ‘a warning before this one as well. There is a bit of footage here that is going to be confronting for some people.’

The complaint

[4]  Sue Alexander complained that the broadcast breached the offensive and disturbing content, children’s interests, promotion of illegal or antisocial behaviour, and fairness standards of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand. The complainant’s concerns under each standard are summarised below: 

Offensive and Disturbing Content

  • The programme was ‘heart-breaking’, ‘highly offensive and cruel’ and it ‘horrified and disgusted’ the complainant. The programme showed disrespect toward life by including footage of a child carrying a dead cat by the leg, and the programme did not care about:
    (i)    The fear the cats experienced when caged and killed;
    (ii)   Whether or not the cats were owned by anyone; and
    (iii)  The ‘sentience’ of the cats.

Children’s Interests

  • It would have been ‘heart-breaking’ for children (particularly those children who own pets) to watch the programme, and the complainant disagreed with the broadcaster that children were unlikely to be watching. The complainant also argued that the programme could encourage children who were already prone to abusive behaviour to become crueller.

Promotion of Illegal or Antisocial Behaviour

  • The programme encouraged killing and cruelty toward animals; and research has shown that cruelty toward animals could encourage a lack of empathy and cruelty toward people.1


  • Concerns raised under this standard focused on the depiction of the cats as ‘feral’, the experience of the cats and challenges to themes conveyed in the broadcast.

Jurisdiction - Other standards raised on referral

[5]  On referral to the Authority, the complainant also raised concerns under the accuracy and balance standards.

[6]  Under section 8(1B) of the Act, the Authority is only able to consider complaints under the standard(s) raised in the original complaint to the broadcaster. However, in limited circumstances, the Authority can consider standards not raised in the original complaint where it can be reasonably implied into the wording, and where it is reasonably necessary in order to properly consider the complaint.2

[7]  We consider the balance standard could reasonably be implied into the wording of the original complaint. This is because the complainant raised concerns that the broadcast failed to interview people who rescue or care about cats or include perspectives around alternate options for cat control, including sanctuaries and neutering. Such concerns are not reasonably able to be addressed under the other standards raised.

[8]  We do not consider the accuracy standard can reasonably be implied into the wording of the original complaint, which otherwise focussed on the complainant’s concerns that the broadcast was offensive and promoted cruelty. That standard is therefore not addressed in this decision.

The broadcaster’s response

[9]  Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) apologised for the distress caused to the complainant, but did not uphold the complaint. WBD advised that in the wider discussion of New Zealand achieving its Predator Free 2050 goal, investigating feral cats and how they are managed is an important issue and in the public interest to discuss. In reference to the standards, the broadcaster added:

Offensive and Disturbing Content and Children’s Interests

  • ‘The introduction to the Broadcast by the presenter provided the audience with information that the upcoming story dealt with feral cats and hunting’ and ‘Gower provided a verbal warning alerting the audience that the upcoming Broadcast contained footage viewers may find “confronting”.’ ‘This provided sufficient information to enable viewers to make an informed viewing decision and also provided the opportunity to exercise discretion if accompanied by younger audience members.  A second verbal audience advisory was spoken later in the Broadcast to reinforce the warning.’
  • ‘The footage was not overly gory or gratuitous. Hunting footage is generally found to be acceptable in New Zealand, provided it does not depict cruelty which this Broadcast did not.’3

Promotion of Illegal or Antisocial Behaviour

  • ‘Hunting and the trapping of predators is not illegal' and the broadcast   ‘did not amount to encouragement to audiences to break the law or include the promotion of criminal or serious antisocial activity. Mr Gower clearly explained that his comments were specifically in relation to feral cats.’


  • This standard is designed to protect individuals and/or organisations taking part in broadcasts, not animals.

The standards

[10]  We consider the offensive and disturbing content, children’s interests, and balance standards most applicable to the complainant’s concerns and these are addressed in detail below. The fairness and promotion of illegal or antisocial behaviour standards are dealt with briefly at paragraph [31].

  • The purpose of the offensive and disturbing content standard4 is to protect audiences from viewing or listening to broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread disproportionate offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards.5 The standard takes into account the context of the programme, and the wider context of the broadcast, as well as information given by the broadcaster to enable the audience to exercise choice and control over their viewing or listening.
  • The children’s interests standard6 requires broadcasters to ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. Material likely to be considered under this standard includes violent or sexual content or themes, offensive language, social or domestic friction and dangerous, antisocial or illegal behaviour where such material is outside the expectations of the programme’s classification.7
  • The balance standard8 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.9 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.10

Our analysis

[11]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[12]  As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh up the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.11 For the reasons below, we have not found such harm in this case.

Relevant contextual factors

[13]  Context is crucial in determining complaints under the offensive and disturbing content, and children’s interests standards. The following contextual factors are relevant:

  • Paddy Gower Has Issues is a news and current affairs programme that plays at 7.30pm and has an adult target audience. While the programme is unclassified, it airs during children’s normally accepted viewing times.12    
  • Paddy Gower Has Issues often includes content that some may find challenging, and this story is consistent with the type of stories that audiences can expect to see on the programme.
  • The host introduced the item as being focussed on the control of feral cats, and warned the audience that the content might be challenging. This warning was repeated later in the programme.
  • While the footage included dead cats and clips of cats (and a possum) being shot, there were no scenes of blood or of cats suffering, and the conservationist explained how they tried to euthanise the cats they caught in as humane a way as possible. There was no undue cruelty shown toward the cats.
  • The conservationist who was shown shooting the cats, made the point that they did not enjoy doing so, but that it was a necessary part of their work, including the statement ‘I'd love it if I didn't have to. Honestly, I love cats. You know, no conservationist goes into this kind of work because we love killing things.’
  • The item specified that the cats that were targeted were feral, and were considered pests. Hunting, fishing, and pest control are part of the reality of life in New Zealand. Broadcasts containing these themes are common.
  • The programme carried a high level of public interest. It included what appeared to be the first public acknowledgment from the SPCA that it supported the humane killing of feral cats, and contained a commitment from then Minister of Conservation, Willow-Jean Prime that the inclusion of feral cats in Predator Free 2050 would be reviewed in 2024.

Offensive and Disturbing Content

[14]  We have previously acknowledged that hunting and pest control is a part of, and a reality of, life in New Zealand.13 Footage of hunting, and of animals being shot is generally acceptable in New Zealand, provided it does not depict undue cruelty. We do not consider the item to contain any material that depicts undue cruelty.

[15]  We are satisfied the broadcast did not glorify the killing of cats. The broadcast conveyed the difficulty those tasked with the job of euthanizing the cats had with it, including footage of a conservationist speaking softly to a cat caught in a trap, and apologising before quickly euthanizing it. We consider the way that feral cat predator control was depicted was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.

[16]  In addition, where broadcasters take effective steps to inform audiences of the nature of the programme, we are less likely to find a breach.14 We consider that the subject matter of the item was clearly signposted by the host during the introduction to the story, and again before further footage of cats being shot. Viewers and caregivers were made sufficiently aware of the content of the item, and therefore had a reasonable opportunity to make a decision about whether they wished to continue watching, or wished their children to continue watching. Those who find such subjects disagreeable, including the complainant, could turn the programme off.

[17]  There is public interest in programmes which inform audiences about such aspects of New Zealand life, including predator control and efforts to reintroduce endangered species. While we acknowledge that some people have different views on what constitutes a predator/pest, and that people have strong emotional reactions to the idea of killing cats, the programme shed light on the harm to native species caused by feral cats, and efforts to include feral cats as part of Predator Free 2050. We consider the inclusion of footage of cats being euthanised was appropriate as it demonstrated for the audience the reality of what ‘predator control’ of feral cats involves. We find the value and public interest in the broadcast outweighed any potential harm.

[18]  Therefore, we do not uphold the complaint under the offensive and disturbing content standard.

Children’s Interests

[19]  We have previously recognised from our research15 that animal harm or torture was one of the most common types of content that children found upsetting. Accordingly, we agree broadcasters must exercise care when depicting such material.

[20]  While the programme did not depict any undue cruelty or suffering, we acknowledge some children may be disturbed by the scenes of feral cats being shot. However, the protection of children is a responsibility shared between broadcasters and caregivers and there is an expectation of adult supervision during unclassified news and current affairs programmes, which contain content aimed at adults. We are satisfied the introduction, and warning to the audience was sufficient to enable parents and caregivers to make informed decisions about their children’s exposure to the content.16

[21]  Therefore, we do not uphold the complaint under the children’s interests standard.


[22]  The complainant stated the programme did not include any other side to the story, including the viewpoints of those opposed to the killing of feral cats, or perspectives on other options for feral cat control including rescue and neutering.

Did the broadcast discuss a controversial issue of public importance?

[23]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to ‘news, current affairs and factual programmes’ which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.17

[24]  The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.18 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.19

[25]  The programme discussed the issue of killing feral cats for predator control and conservation purposes. We consider this amounts to a controversial issue of public importance, noting again the public has strong and disparate views on this topic.

Did the broadcaster sufficiently present significant viewpoints in the circumstances?

[26]  The standard does not require equal time to be given to each significant viewpoint on a controversial issue of public importance. Broadcasters should give a fair voice to alternative significant viewpoints taking into account the nature of the issue and coverage of that issue.20

[27]  The standard also allows for balance to be achieved over time, within the period of current interest. It does not require every significant viewpoint to be presented in every programme that discusses a controversial issue of public importance.21

[28]  We consider the broadcaster met the requirements of the standard, noting that the broadcast did contain (albeit briefly) perspectives the complainant considered missing, and also included acknowledgments that there were opposing views on the matter, including:

  • An interview with a protester, who stated: ‘Why is it a competition? Why is it glorified if it’s trying to conserve wildlife, conserve nature? Is there a better way than this? That is trapping, neutering, returning to nature.’
  • The protesters signs included slogans such as: ‘Your prize is their lives’; ‘hunting = killing for fun’; ‘trap, neuter, release’; ‘hunting not a game’; and, ‘killing is not conservation’.
  • Discussion with a biosecurity consultant, who advised that many groups were scared of, and unsupportive of the addition of cats to the list of controlled species, due to concerns about pet cats.
  • Discussion with the former Director of the Department of Conservation, who explained that there were opposing views to including cats in Predator Free 2050, noting that New Zealand has one of the highest cat ownership rates in the world, and the Department of Conservation had found it difficult to take on such a big movement that supports cats.
  • The Chief Scientific Officer of the SPCA acknowledged that people take a ‘polarised view’ around the humane management of cats. They added further that the SPCA goal was that all cats be ‘cats on laps’ and that we work to avoid having stray or feral cats in New Zealand.
  • Former Minister Willow-Jean Prime commented that when the Predator Free 2050 strategy was introduced, there was ‘strong feedback’ from the public that it should not include cats, and that it is open to the public to again provide feedback, when the strategy is reviewed in 2024.

[29]  We also note the topic of killing feral cats has been further covered by WBD, and other broadcasters, during the period of interest, and the perspectives of those opposed to this method of feral cat population control have been included in other coverage.22 We consider the audience could reasonably be expected to be aware of other views on the topic.23

[30]  In these circumstances, we find no breach of the balance standard.

Remaining standards

[31]  The following standards either were not breached, or did not apply:

  • The purpose of promotion of illegal or antisocial behaviour standard24 is to prevent broadcasts that encourage audiences to break the law, or are otherwise likely to promote criminal or serious antisocial activity.25 Hunting and pest control are not considered illegal or antisocial activities, and depiction of such is not a breach of the standard.
  • The fairness standard26 protects the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes.27 It ensures individuals and organisations taking part or referred to in broadcasts are dealt with justly and fairly and protected from unwarranted damage. The fairness standard does not apply to animals or to whether issues or facts were ‘fairly’ reported.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Susie Staley
29 November 2023    




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

1  Sue Alexander’s formal complaint to WBD – 6 July 2023

2  WBD’s response to the complaint – 1 August 2023

3  Alexander’s referral to the Authority – 18 August 2023

4  WBD’s confirmation of no further comment – 5 October 2023

1 Suzanne E. Tallichet, Christopher Hensley, Adam O’Bryan & Heidi Hassell “Targets for Cruelty: Demographic and Situational Factors Affecting the Type of Animal Abused” Criminal Justice Studies (26 January 2006) 18:2 at pages 173-182; Johnson, Scott A. “Animal cruelty, pet abuse & violence: The missed dangerous connection” (2018) Forensic Research & Criminology International Journal 6: 403–15; Dadds, Mark & Turner, Cynthia & McAloon, John “Developmental Links between Cruelty to Animals and Human Violence” (2002) Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology 35 pages 363-382
2 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd [2012] NZHC 131, [2012] NZAR 407 at [62]
3 Andersson and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2016-043; and Alexander and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-080
4 Standard 1, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
5 Commentary, Standard 1, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 8
6 Standard 2, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
7 Guideline 2.2
8 Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
9 Commentary, Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 14
10 Guideline 5.1
11 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
12 Guideline 2.1
13 Andersson and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2016-043; Alexander and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-080; Judge and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2020-108
14 Guideline 1.3
15 Children’s Media Use Report (Broadcasting Standards Authority and NZ On Air, 2020) at 85 and 90
16 Guideline 1.3
17 Guideline 5.1
18 Guideline 5.1
19 Guideline 5.1
20 Guideline 5.3
21 Guideline 5.2
22 See for example: “North Canterbury Hunting competition reinstates feral cat killing section” Newshub (online ed, 21 June 2023) – included statements from SAFE regarding the danger such competitions pose to domestic pets, and advocaty for mandatory desexing, registration and microchipping; and William Hewett “Protesters slam North Canterbury Hunting Competition after kids parade dead cats, shout ‘meat, meat, meat’ at them” Newshub (online ed, 26 June 2023) – included statements from Christchurch Animal Save organiser that ‘the competition as a whole is a "disgrace" to New Zealand and is glorifying the killing of innocent animals’ and ‘If the parents are showing the children that it's okay to commit violence toward the animals, they too will often do the same.’
23 Guideline 5.4
24 Standard 3, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
25 Commentary, Standard 3, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 11
26 Standard 8, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
27 Commentary, Standard 8, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 20