BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Dawson and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2020-098 (9 December 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Kent Dawson
Number
2020-098
Programme
NewsHub Live
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an item during the sports segment of the news showing an Ultimate Fighting Championship fight and one of the competitor’s injuries after the fight. The item was brief, and in the context of an unclassified sports news segment, within audience expectations. Viewers would have had sufficient information to exercise choice and control.

Not Upheld: Children’s Interests, Violence


The broadcast

[1]  A sports news item on NewsHub Live at 6pm covering the outcome of an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight was introduced as followed:

Sixth on the ladder, a bloodied, bruised and stitched up Dan Hooker has posted a video assuring his fans he's OK following his brutal defeat to Dustin Poirier and what was dubbed the fight of the year. Both fighters traded savage blows throughout the five rounds. Hooker required hospital treatment. And while he lost the fight, he didn't lose his sense of humour. 

[2]  Footage from the fight and an excerpt from Hooker’s video, depicting his injuries, was included in the item, which was broadcast on 29 June 2020.

The complaint

[3]  Kent Dawson complained the item breached the children’s interests and violence standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice:

  • The footage should have been preceded by an advisory warning and sufficient time for viewers to change channel.
  • ‘UFC is gratuitous violence at best and has no place in civilised society, let alone on TV.’
  • It would have been ‘shocking’ for children to see, and it sets ‘a bad example’ and ‘an expectation that brawling of this nature is acceptable’.
  • ‘The competitor who sustained gruesome facial injuries then trivialised the encounter by shrugging it off, yet brain injury or death could easily be the outcome of copycat action.’
  • ‘Warnings are regularly given when news items display graphic or sensitive content and sports news containing graphic violence should not be exempt from this requirement.’
  • Showing the competitor as okay ‘following his brutal defeat’ will merely normalise the behaviour and ‘intimates that severe injury or death are unlikely outcomes.’

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  MediaWorks did not uphold the complaint, with reference to a previous Authority decision finding UFC footage is acceptable to screen in a 6pm news bulletin.1 It commented:

Sports bulletins regularly feature boxing, rugby and other contact sports without warnings and we do not consider this Broadcast required an audience advisory. The presenter informed the audience that the competitor was 'ok following his brutal defeat.' The fighting shown was consistent with UFC rules and we note that the level of physicality is consented to by the participants. While we acknowledge that this sport may not be to everyone's liking, we do not agree that it should be denied to those who genuinely enjoy the sport.

The relevant standards

[5]  The children’s interests standard 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 content or themes and graphic descriptions of people in extreme pain or distress which are outside audience expectations of the station or programme.2 The focus is on harm that may be unique to children; content that could be considered harmful to children may not be harmful or unexpected when considering the audience in general.

[6]  The violence standard requires broadcasters to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. In news, current affairs and factual programmes, where disturbing or alarming material is often reported to reflect a world in which violence occurs, the material should be justified in the public interest. Judgement and discretion must be used in deciding the degree of graphic detail to be included in news programmes, particularly when children are likely to be watching. An audience advisory should be used when appropriate.3

Our findings

[7]  Our task is to weigh the value of the programme, in terms of the right to freedom of expression and the public interest in the programme, against the level of actual or potential harm caused by the broadcast. In this case the harm alleged is to audiences generally and to children specifically, through the inclusion of graphic detail.

[8]  For the reasons below, we have not found actual or potential harm which would warrant limiting the right to freedom of expression in this case. We have viewed the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the appendix.

[9]  When we consider complaints under the children’s interests and violence standards, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:4

  • the item was broadcast during the 6pm news, within children’s normally accepted viewing times5
  • the item was short and not repeated
  • NewsHub Live at 6pm is an unclassified news programme targeted at adults
  • the item was not preceded by a warning
  • audience expectations of news content which frequently contains material unsuitable for children
  • audience expectations of sports news content and, in particular, UFC and other contact or fighting sports where this level of physicality is common and consented to by the participants
  • the Authority’s recognition of mixed martial arts as a legitimate sport6
  • MediaWorks confirmed the fighting shown was consistent with the rules of the sport.

[10]  We have previously acknowledged children are unlikely to watch the news unsupervised.7 Parents or caregivers who watch the evening news with their children should expect it to contain potentially disturbing events and images. This item was shown in the context of an unclassified sport news item, where boxing, rugby and other contact sports are frequently shown without warning. Even in the absence of a warning, the subject matter of the item gave viewers an indication it may contain violent material. The stronger content, namely the depiction of Mr Hooker’s injuries, appeared halfway through the item. While we accept this may have been upsetting for some viewers, there was sufficient notice for viewers to exercise discretion and switch off the broadcast. The outcome of the fight was newsworthy and the violence depicted was not gratuitous. Mr Hooker’s upbeat attitude and response to the fight was relevant to the item. Accordingly, showing his video, with his injuries apparent, was justified in the context.

[11]  As noted in Malone & Sadd and TVNZ Ltd, watching brief footage of controlled violence in a sporting environment, in the context of an unclassified sport news story, would not desensitise children to violence generally.8

[12]  Taking into account these factors, the footage was within audience expectations, and adequate information was provided to allow audiences to take reasonable steps to protect their children.

[13]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under either of the standards raised.

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

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair
9 December 2020
 

Appendix

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

1  Kent Dawson’s complaint to MediaWorks – 1 July 2020

2  MediaWorks’ decision – 23 July 2020

3  Mr Dawson’s referral to the Authority – 15 August 2020

4  MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comments – 29 September 2020


1 Malone & Sadd and Television New Zealand Ltd,Decision No. 2014-155
2 Guideline 3b
3 Guideline 4d
4 Guidelines 3c and 4a
5 Definition: Children’s normally accepted viewing times, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9
6 Dandy and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2017-057 at [14]
7 For example, Bracey and Ee and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-084 at [9]
8 Malone & Sadd and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2014-155 at [15]