BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Gillanders and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1996-058

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • Ann Gillanders
Number
1996-058
Programme
Shortland Street
Channel/Station
TV2


Summary

Dog fighting and dealing with an unwanted kitten were two of the issues canvassed in

episodes of Shortland Street broadcast between 28 February and 5 March 1996 between

7.00–7.30pm.

Ms Gillanders complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that she was

disappointed and disgusted with the treatment of animals in Shortland Street. She

claimed that the depiction of violence and cruelty during times when young people were

watching breached broadcasting standards.

In its response, TVNZ pointed out that Shortland Street dealt with a number of social

issues and that it was important that such matters as cruelty to animals were discussed

within families. It noted that the programme was classified as PGR and therefore was

suitable for children when in the company of their parents. It emphasised that none of

the animals portrayed had been mistreated and it did not believe any standards were

breached. Dissatisfied with that decision, Ms Gillanders referred her 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.


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the episodes complained about and have

read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice, the Authority

determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Themes of dog fighting and dealing with unwanted animals were dealt with in episodes

of Shortland Street broadcast on TV2 from 28 February to 5 March 1996 between

7.00–7.30pm.


Ms Gillanders complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the

scenes depicting cruelty to animals would have encouraged animal abuse because it

showed it as normal and acceptable. In addition, she complained that the programme's

content was suitable for adult viewers only and that it should therefore be re-classified

and broadcast at a later hour. She detailed specific instances which she claimed depicted

cruelty to animals: dog fighting; the suggestion that kittens were fed to fighting dogs;

and throwing an unwanted kitten from a bridge.

In its response, TVNZ emphatically denied the assertion made by Ms Gillanders that the

programme condoned the mistreatment of animals. It maintained that the programme

made clear that the mistreatment of animals was not acceptable and, while it alluded to

dog fighting, and portrayed the possibility of feeding a kitten to a dog and throwing a

kitten off a bridge in a sack, none of those were actually shown. It advised that it

considered the complaint under standards G8 and V17 of the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice. The first standard requires broadcasters:

G8  To abide by the classification codes and their appropriate time bands as

outlined in the agreed criteria for programme classifications.


The other standard reads:


V17 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 great 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.


TVNZ emphasised that although the programme was pure fiction, it touched on a

number of social issues which, on this occasion, included dog fighting. It stressed that

the depiction in Shortland Street did not support or praise dog fighting but, on the

contrary, it believed viewers would have been repelled by the thought of dog fighting

and of kittens being fed to dogs. Turning to standard V17, TVNZ noted that no animal

was hurt or humiliated on screen and it also gave an assurance that no animal was

mistreated in any way during the filming of the sequences. It believed that the

requirement to handle such a theme with "great care and sensitivity" was fully complied

with.

Noting that standard V17 raised the matter of children who might be watching, TVNZ

pointed out that the programme carried a PGR certificate and was broadcast during PGR

time. It observed that PGR was defined as:

Programmes containing material more suited to adult audiences but not

necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a

parent or adult.


On the basis that children should only be watching the programme in the company of an

adult, TVNZ considered it was appropriate to introduce issues such as mistreatment of

animals and that it was an opportunity for them to discuss it with adults.

With respect to the standard G8 complaint, TVNZ maintained that Shortland Street

complied with the guidelines for PGR material and added that it considered it

particularly appropriate viewing for young people in the company of adults, because it

provided an opportunity for discussion and reaction to the issues portrayed.

Ms Gillanders rejected TVNZ's explanations and repeated that in her view, both the dog

and the kittens were humiliated, badly treated and abused. She dismissed as irrelevant

TVNZ's assurance that the animals were not harmed during the filming of the

programme. In particular, she deplored the negative messages conveyed by the

programme and suggested that the depiction of abuse of animals encouraged more abuse

because it showed it as normal and acceptable. She also repeated that she considered

the material in Shortland Street was more suited to adult audiences than to children and

that the programme should be scheduled at a later hour.

The Authority acknowledges that many of the themes of Shortland Street deal with

issues which are challenging and provocative. Such were the issues raised with the

themes of dog fighting and of dealing with an unwanted animal. However, the

Authority notes, the activities described by the complainant – dog fighting, feeding a

kitten to a dog and throwing a kitten off a bridge – were only implied. There was no

depiction of cruelty to any animals. In fact, the animals were treated with compassion

by the character Lionel (who rescued the kitten from the dog and, later, from the bridge)

and by most of the other members of the cast, who voiced their disapproval of dog

fighting and cruelty to animals in general.

Turning to standard V17, the Authority notes that it is a standard which applies to

scenes in which animals may be badly treated, and requires that the broadcaster handle

such a scene with great care and sensitivity. Because no actual instances of cruelty were

depicted, the Authority considers the concept of maltreatment of animals was indeed

dealt with compassionately. Further, it notes that there was no possibility that the

material could be considered gratuitous and consequently the Authority concludes that

standard V17 was not breached.

With respect to the argument that the programme should be classified as being more

suitable for adult audiences, the Authority accepts TVNZ's explanation that Shortland

Street is a programme which children should be watching in the company of a parent or

adult. This ensures that when themes requiring more maturity are shown, children have

an opportunity to discuss the issues with the adult watching with them. It considers the

PGR classification to be an appropriate one on this occasion and declines to uphold the

standard G8 complaint.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the

complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
20 June 1996


Appendix

Ann Gillanders' Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 5 March

1996

Ms Gillanders of Auckland complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about the

content of some episodes of Shortland Street which portrayed cruel treatment of

animals.

In particular she noted the instance where Guy Warner's father punished his children by

putting their dog down, Flipper being hit by a car and nobody caring, Flipper's kittens

being given away and not being kept by the owners, and the feeding of baby kittens to

dogs. The dog was put down and the kitten which was rescued was given to someone

who was unwilling to accept the responsibility of caring for it.

In Ms Gillanders' view, the messages portrayed were terrible and encouraged people to

treat their animals that way. She noted that every year the SPCA handled thousands of

homeless animals as well as thousands of abuse cases. She considered the programme

on dog fighting would only encourage some people to do such disgusting things. She

added:

YOUR PROGRAMME IS TOTALLY SICK. You give bad messages to

people and the best thing that could happen is that it is taken off air.

Not once in the whole year I have been watching your programme have you

portrayed an animal living in a happy, safe healthy and loving environment,

which is how they should be portrayed.

I will NEVER watch your programme again.

In a second letter dated 22 March, Ms Gillanders elaborated on her earlier points. She

noted that her first letter was to be considered a formal complaint and that she

considered standard V17 was breached.

She argued that the media had a very important role to play in depicting animals and

considered that the very negative messages sent would have encouraged more abuse

because it showed animal abuse as normal and acceptable.

She also complained about the classification of the programme. She considered that the

programme's content was suitable for adult viewers only, arguing that the negative

messages sent to young people encouraged them to think for example, that animal abuse

was normal, that lesbian or homosexual behaviour was normal, sex between high

school children was acceptable, children treating their parents badly was normal, and

sex changes were normal. She believed the negative messages fed to under 18 year

olds in that time slot were harmful.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 9 April 1996

TVNZ began its response by making some general observations about Shortland Street.

It noted that while it was entertainment and purely fictional, it touched on a number of

social issues - some of which were universal and some of which had a distinctive New

Zealand flavour. It pointed out that the programme had tackled many subjects such as

rape, assault, suicide, drug use, prostitution, the alienation of children, divorce and

many more.

TVNZ considered that "Shortland Street's" readiness to investigate social issues was

positive. In the case of the animal issues, it noted that illegal dog fighting does exist in

New Zealand. It denied that the depiction in Shortland Street supported the practice,

arguing that, on the contrary, viewers would have been repelled by what they saw.

TVNZ asked if it was not better that issues such as this were brought out into the open

and suggested that the social opprobrium generated by such depictions would prompt

those who took part in such vile sports to at least think about what they were doing and

why.

Turning to the standards, TVNZ noted that no animal was hurt or humiliated on screen

during the sequences to which the complaint referred. It also gave Ms Gillanders a

categorical assurance that no animal was mistreated in any way by the actors or crew of

Shortland Street. It wrote:

The standard requires that issues dealing with animals who are badly treated (the

kittens and the dogs) be treated with "great care and sensitivity". TVNZ

believes the requirement was complied with in that the issues were raised

without any harm being done, or being seen to be done, to any animal.

TVNZ noted that standard V17 raised the matter of children who might be watching It

pointed out that the programme carried a PGR certificate and was broadcast in PGR

time. It argued that Shortland Street was a suitable vehicle to introduce children to

themes such as the mistreatment of animals and that it presented an opportunity to

discuss the issues in the company of adults.

We hope child viewers were angered by the thought of dog fights, and by the

suggestion that fierce dogs are fed kittens - and that their parent encouraged

them to deplore such behaviour.

In relation to the requirement to classify programmes appropriately (standard G8),

TVNZ noted that the certification of programmes was carried out according to certain

guidelines. Its view was that Shortland Street complied with the guidelines for PGR

material. It considered it was particularly appropriate for young people to view in the

company of adults and declined to uphold any aspect of the complaint.

Ms Gillanders' Response to TVNZ - 12 April 1996

Ms Gillanders responded directly to TVNZ on several points made in its letter. She

described as "faintly ridiculous" TVNZ's contention that because a practice existed in

the wider community, it had an obligation to show it on television.

She argued that there were many subjects which were not suitable as broadcast subjects,

which was why the codes of broadcasting practice existed. She added:

The issue is not whether the practice of dog fighting exists but whether in your

depiction of it the codes were breached. I suggest a breach did occur.

Ms Gillanders suggested that TVNZ had an obligation to reschedule to a later time

programmes thought likely to disturb children. She contended that the feeding of

kittens to fighting dogs was likely to disturb children and therefore the programme

should have been rescheduled.

She continued:

With regard to G8 you state that Shortland Street has dealt with "Rape, assault,

suicide, drug use, prostitution" and go on to state that in your opinion the

programme constitutes "particularly appropriate viewing for young people". A

particularly revealing statement on how TVNZ views its social responsibilities

and respect for the broadcasting standards.

She advised TVNZ that she intended to refer the complaint to the Broadcasting

Standards Authority.

Ms Gillanders' Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 6 May

1996

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision not to uphold her complaint, Ms Gillanders referred

it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act

1989.

She repeated that by showing the incidents of cruelty to animals in a family programme,

the suggestion was made that it was a normal and acceptable behaviour.

Ms Gillanders disagreed with TVNZ's view that by showing such things, viewers

would be encouraged to show their disgust. In fact, she argued, it encouraged such

practices. She asserted that the programme basically stated that it was acceptable to

mistreat animals. She considered that TVNZ had a moral responsibility to show

animals in their true worth and not, as on Shortland Street simply as worthy of abuse.

She wrote:

I do not care whether or not the animals were well treated during filming of the

programme. What I do care about is how they are treated in society. Shortland

Street has only shown them to be abused. A fine role model aimed at the young

people who regularly view Shortland Street.

In conclusion, Ms Gillanders asserted that the programme sent bad messages to the

viewing public and that its content was entirely negative. She suggested it was time

positive messages were portrayed with respect to all aspects of society including

animals.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 10 May 1996

TVNZ denied Ms Gillanders' assertion that the programme "basically states that the

mistreatment of animals is OK". In fact, it noted, Shortland Street made it very clear

that the mistreatment of animals was not acceptable.

It pointed out that the characters of Lionel and Laurie went to great lengths to uncover

the dog fighting ring, and Lionel refused to feed a kitten to the dog. In the storyline

involving cats, it pointed out that Lionel stressed the welfare of the cats above all else.

To Ms Gillanders' comment that she was disappointed in "kittens being fed to fighting

dogs" and "kittens being thrown off a bridge in a sack", TVNZ pointed out that neither

of these events occurred. It submitted that the events leading to these possible outcomes

were depicted in a disapproving manner.

It also denied Ms Gillanders' criticism that animals were shown as worthy of abuse,

arguing that the contrary was true.

TVNZ suggested her closing comments regarding the plots of Shortland Street related to

her preferences as a viewer and were not standards matters capable of being resolved by

a complaints procedure.

It reminded the Authority that Shortland Street was classified as PGR and that it

expected that children who were watching would be in the company of adults. In those

circumstances, it did not believe standards were breached.

Ms Gillanders' Final Comment - 27 May 1996

Ms Gillanders repeated that in her view a breach of standard V17 had occurred. She

added that whether or not Lionel actually did throw a kitten to a fighting dog or a kitten

was thrown off a bridge, both situations were implied. She felt it was totally insensitive

to show those situations on a family programme.

However, in her view, the most important thing was the negative messages which were

given. She concluded:

How can TVNZ say that Shortland Street sends clear messages that the

treatment of animals is not acceptable when the only time they show any

animals on Shortland Street at all is when they are being mistreated.