Dandy and Sky Network Television Limited - 2023-055 (3 October 2023)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- John Gillespie
- Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
- Aroha Beck
- Troy Dandy
ProgrammeUFC 286 Prelims Live
BroadcasterSKY Network Television Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint that the broadcast of UFC 286 Prelims Live on Prime between 8am and 10am, and re-broadcast on Prime+1 between 9am and 11am, breached the offensive and disturbing content and children’s interests standards. The complainant considered the broadcast of mixed martial arts (MMA) fights was offensive and inappropriate to broadcast at a time when children may be watching television unsupervised. The Authority found, taking into account the context, including that UFC 286 Prelims Live was; an unclassified live sports broadcast; preceded by a warning that it would feature live MMA and would contain content that viewers may find distressing; had an adult target audience; and had a buffer of programmes unlikely to be of interest to children, the broadcast did not breach the nominated standards.
Not Upheld: Offensive and Disturbing Content, Children’s Interests
 On 19 March 2023 Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 286 Prelims Live was broadcast live on Prime from 8am-10am, with a repeat broadcast on Prime+1 from 9am-11am. The broadcast featured four mixed martial arts (MMA) fights over the two hours.
 The broadcast was introduced with the following warning:
The following UFC programme is live mixed martial arts (MMA) and will contain content that some viewers may find distressing. MMA is a full contact combat sport. Viewer Discretion is advised.
 Troy Dandy complained that the broadcast breached the offensive and disturbing content and children’s interests standards of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand for the following key reasons:
Offensive and Disturbing Content
- ‘The two hours of programming content (then repeated on Prime +1) included numerous examples of excess grievous bloody violence by men and women, head and body punching and kicking, and various fighting techniques to the point of choking and submission causing clear distress.’
- ‘this “sporting” content promotes crude and brutalistic violence as grown men and women fight each other in a cage to the point of KO, submission, or points decision. Such violence is content likely to cause offence and/or distress to children especially viewing at this time of a weekend morning.’
- The programme was re-broadcast on Prime+1 an hour later.
- Audience advisories were not likely to be understood or heeded by children, particularly during unsupervised viewing time.
- ‘In this case, the content could have been easily delayed to a time outside children's viewing hours on the same day if necessary.’
- The content aired at a time when children are likely to be watching television and within one hour of children’s programmes on the channel.
- The Code of Broadcasting Standards states ‘[a]ny portrayal of realistic violence in content likely to be viewed by children should be scheduled and classified with care. It is hard to think of any situation where this content could have screened to be at any worse a children's viewing time.’
- Advisories ‘assume parents or guardians are supervising their children during children’s viewing times which is unlikely.’
- Showing ‘violence is particularly harmful to children’ as they are ‘impressionable, lack rationale or understanding of the events being portrayed.’ ‘Literally hundreds of studies have confirmed that exposing children to media violence makes them more aggressive and violence prone.’
- ‘…logically the classification exemption for sports content containing extreme gratuitous violence such as UFC MMA should only apply during broadcast hours outside of children’s normal viewing times.’
- This complaint can be distinguished from past complaints such as Malone & Sadd and TVNZ1 and the Worthington and Sky2 cases as:
- This content was a series of extremely violent full contact fights over 2 hours then repeated on the +1 channel.
- The content was scheduled during children’s viewing times.
- The content was adjacent to children’s programming on free-to-air TV.
The broadcaster’s response
 Sky did not uphold Dandy’s complaint for the following reasons:
- ‘Under the BSA Code, Live Sport is exempt from needing to be classified because of its distinct nature. However, we acknowledge that fight sports, including UFC, are of a different nature to some other sports, and therefore our usual practice is to apply a warning board to inform viewers of the content.’
- In this case, ‘These warning boards stated, “The following UFC programme is live mixed martial arts (MMA) and will contain content that some viewers may find distressing. MMA is a full contact combat sport. Viewer Discretion is advised.” There was also a synopsis in the Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) that read: “Join Prime for LIVE coverage of the UFC 286 Prelims. Mixed martial arts is a full contact combat sport and will contain content that some viewers may find distressing. Viewer discretion is advised.”’
- ‘The Broadcasting Standards Authority has previously found that MMA is a legitimate sport, where a level of physicality is expected and consented to by participants. This means that, as sports programming, MMA fights and footage can be broadcast without a classification and are therefore not restricted to being broadcast at a certain time.3’
- ‘We believe the [A]uthority’s previous decision on MMA being allowed to screen at any time, alongside our warning boards that played at the commencement of the broadcast and in the EPG, gave enough information for viewers, including parents and caregivers, to make an informed viewing choice for themselves or children in their care.’
 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 audience expectations for the type of programme or the programme’s classification.7
 We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 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.8
Offensive and Disturbing Content
 Broadcasters must schedule programmes responsibly, giving careful consideration to the likely and target audience, children’s interests, the audience’s ability to exercise choice and control, and all applicable standards.9
 Where broadcasters provide consistent, reliable information to audiences about the nature of their programmes, and enable them to exercise choice and control over their own and their children’s viewing or listening, they are less likely to breach standards.10
 Sports content is not, because of its distinct nature, subject to classification. This content is generally targeted at adults and it is expected any children watching or listening will be supervised. However, broadcasters must be mindful of children’s interests and other broadcasting standards and include audience advisories where appropriate, to enable the audience to exercise discretion.11
 Context is an important consideration under the offensive and disturbing content standard. The key contextual considerations for this broadcast were:
- UFC 286 Prelims Live was an unclassified sports programme.12
- The programme had an adult target audience.
- It featured warnings at the beginning of the programme indicating its MMA content that some people may find distressing, and that viewer discretion was advised.
- Audience expectations of UFC 286 Prelims Live were for violent combat sport.
- The programme screened on a Sunday morning on Prime from 8am-10am and then again on Prime+1 from 9am-11am. This is within children’s normally accepted viewing times.13
- On Prime, the programme was preceded by The Powerpuff Girls (PGV) at 6.35am, Religious Programming (G) at 7.00am and Attitude (PGC, programme which concerns the lives of New Zealanders living with disabilities) at 7.30am. On Prime+1 the same broadcasts occurred, delayed by one hour respectively.
 We acknowledge that the complainant found the broadcast to be violent and inappropriate for broadcast at 8am on a Sunday morning (and re-broadcast on the Prime +1 channel at 9am). However, we have reached the view that, overall, there was sufficient information available to signpost the programme’s likely content, and accordingly the broadcast did not breach the standard.
 The Authority has previously acknowledged that MMA is a legitimate sport, where a level of physicality is expected and consented to by participants.14 This means that, as sports programming, MMA fights and footage can be broadcast without a classification and are therefore not restricted to being broadcast at a certain time.
 While the programme was unclassified live sports, the broadcaster did include a warning preceding the programme that adequately signposted to viewers the nature of the upcoming footage. This warning enabled the audience to exercise choice and control over their own and their children’s viewing. We therefore do not consider it likely to seriously violate community norms or disproportionately disturb the audience.
 This standard is related to the offensive and disturbing content standard (taking into account the same contextual factors) but differs in focus, directed towards harm that may be unique to children (rather than the audience in general).15
 Applying those same factors and for similar reasons outlined above, we found the broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests in this case.
 While the programme screened during children’s normally accepted viewing times, it included warnings for content that may be distressing, and was not a programme targeted at children. The complainant considers it unlikely that parents or guardians would be supervising children during children’s viewing times, however the standard outlines that the responsibility for safe viewing is shared by broadcasters and parents/caregivers, and it is expected that parents and caregivers will use the information available to regulate the viewing of children in their care.16
 While the channels did have children’s content airing earlier in the morning (Powerpuff Girls), we note that this was rated PG (parental guidance recommended for younger viewers), and was followed by one hour of programmes likely of little interest to children. This provided a buffer before the broadcast of UFC 286 Prelims Live.
 Accordingly, we are satisfied the broadcaster took reasonable steps to ensure children could be protected from content that might adversely affect them, and did not cause harm at a level requiring regulatory intervention.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
3 October 2023
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Troy Dandy's initial complaint to Sky - 17 April 2023
2 Sky's decision on the complaint - 26 May 2023
3 Dandy's referral to the Authority - 14 June 2023
4 Sky confirming no further comments - 27 July 2023
1 Malone & Sadd and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2014-155
2 Worthington and Sky Network Television Ltd, Decision No. 2014-082
3 Dandy and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision 2017-057
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 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
9 Guideline 1.13
10 Guideline 1.3
11 Guideline 1.5
12 Guideline 1.5
13 Guideline 2.1
14 Dandy and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision 2017-057
15 Commentary, Standard 2, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at 10
16 Commentary, Standard 2, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at 10