BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Gale and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1997-064

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • Richard Gale
Number
1997-064
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

A police chase in Los Angeles in which two bank robbers were eventually shot and

killed was covered in an item broadcast on One Network News at 6.00pm on 1 March

1997. The chase had been shown live on television in the United States at the time it

was happening.

Mr Gale complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that it was

inappropriate to show an item of little relevance to New Zealanders at a time when

children were watching. He also considered inappropriate the reference to a "shoot-

out" in the presenter's introduction.

Explaining that the relevance of the item related to its broadcast at the actual time it

was happening, TVNZ said that it did not breach the standard requiring good taste and

was not inappropriate for the time of the broadcast. It accepted that the introduction

did not refer sufficiently to the ethical dilemma involved when screening material as it

happened, but did not accept that the standards had been contravened.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Mr Gale referred the complaint to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read

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

determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The action of the police in Los Angeles in shooting and killing two bank robbers as

they tried to flee from the bank, was screened as an item on One Network News

between 6.00–6.30pm on Saturday 1 March. The filming appeared to have been

taken mostly from a helicopter as the robbers tried to escape by car and on foot.

When introducing the item, the presenter stated:

A shoot-out between cops and robbers is a common scene on television dramas.

But in Los Angeles today, a real life shoot-out between bank robbers and police

was screened live on TV ... .


Mr Gale complained to TVNZ that the item was of little relevance to New Zealand,

that the graphic pictures were unsuitable for broadcast at that hour, and that the

reference to a shoot-out was inappropriate.

TVNZ assessed the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice. They require broadcasters:

G2   To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste

in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any

language or behaviour occurs.

G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during

their normally accepted viewing times.


TVNZ emphasised to Mr Gale that the item had been screened live in Los Angeles, at

the time the events were taking place. It wrote:

We note your view that the item had no interest for New Zealanders, but feel

that you have perhaps overlooked the fact that the screening of events like this

live, even though in a distant country, has profound implications. There is the

disturbing ethical debate about the boundary between entertainment and news,

and the questions that arise from putting material of this nature to air without

straining it through the editorial process.


While acknowledging, in hindsight, that the introduction should have put the ethical

question more directly, TVNZ maintained that the standards had not been

contravened. Standard G2 was not breached as the aerial shots showed the activity

from some distance. As for standard G12, TVNZ argued that the news must not be

sanitised to the extent where it no longer reflected the story being told. Further, it

believed that children should not be protected from some of the unpleasant aspects of

the real world.

When referring his complaint to the Authority, Mr Gale expressed particular concern

that TVNZ had not considered the use of viewer discretion advice. In its response,

TVNZ maintained that the absence of a warning did not amount to a breach of either

standard. In his final comment, Mr Gale observed that the presenter's introduction

had not referred in any way to the ethical question which TVNZ said was inssue.

The Authority begins by expressing its sympathy with Mr Gale, and observes that

the availability of interesting and unusual footage in itself does not justify its inclusion

in a news programme.

TVNZ argued that the item which is the subject of the present complaint, and which

was not happening "live" in New Zealand, raised an important ethical issue.

However, it also acknowledged that the ethical question was not raised adequately in

the item's introduction. The Authority is somewhat perplexed over what precisely

was the ethical issue raised the item, and, equally importantly, how it would in fact

have been addressed in the introduction to the item.

Mr Gale's concerns were considered by TVNZ under standards G2 and G12. As the

filming occurred at some distance from the events being shown, and were thus

removed to some degree from the viewer, and as the events amounted to a news item,

the Authority agrees with TVNZ, albeit reluctantly given the item's questionable

relevance to New Zealand viewers, that the broadcast breached neither of the

standards cited.

Nevertheless, the Authority remains uneasy about the broadcast. It considers that Mr

Gale's concern about the item's relevancy to New Zealand viewers raises a valid

point. The Authority recognises that this question is not one of broadcasting

standards. Thus, while it may deplore the editorial decision to screen the material

shown as a news item, it concludes that the broadcast breached neither of the

standards under which TVNZ assessed the complaint. Further, because the issue is

one of relevancy and not of standards, the Authority accepts that the standards

nominated by TVNZ were appropriate to the formal complaint.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
May 1997

Appendix


Mr Gale's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 2 March 1997

Richard Gale of Dunedin complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about a news

item broadcast on One Network News between 6.00 - 6.30pm on 1 March 1997.

The item dealt with a bank robbery in California during which both the robbers were

shot. Mr Gale complained first that the item was of little relevance to New

Zealanders. Secondly, he questioned whether the graphic pictures of the police and

the robbers shooting at each other were appropriate for young viewers. The item, he

added, served as confirmation of the point made in a recent speech by the Minister of

State Owned Enterprises that television news focussed on murder and mayhem.

Thirdly, Mr Gale said it was inappropriate and sloppy for the presenter to introduce

the item with a reference to wild west shoot-outs.

In conclusion, he wrote:

I am not at all happy with the standard of journalism and news reporting as

exhibited by this item, and would be grateful for a prompt reply.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 19 March 1997

Assessing the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice, TVNZ said that the item had broadcast the events as they had

actually occurred. The sequence of shots, it added, presumably had been taken from a

helicopter and the chase ended with the shooting of the suspected bank robbers.

TVNZ wrote:

We note your view that the item had no interest for New Zealanders, but feel

that you have perhaps overlooked the fact that the screening of events like this

live, even though in a distant country, has profound implications. There is the

disturbing ethical debate about the boundary between entertainment and news,

and the questions that arise from putting material of this nature to air without

straining it through the editorial process.

Pointing out that similar technology was used in New Zealand, TVNZ observed that

there could be boundary problems in filming a storm's fury, or an important Prime

Ministerial announcement. It acknowledged that the ethical dilemma involved in

screening live material had been inadequately dealt with in the presenter's

introduction.

Turning to the standards, TVNZ considered that the distant aerial shots did not breach

the good taste standard. It continued:

In reference to G12, we observe that we are very wary of sanitising news to the

extent where it no longer reflects the story being told. If an item of this nature,

dealing with an ethical question, were deleted from early evening bulletins, would

we not also have to drop updates on major battlefronts, reports on bloody

insurrections, reports even on children suffering in famines? We believe we

would serve nobody if we fed children (or adults for that matter) with a diet of

news stories which did not reflect that some aspects of the real world are not

very pleasant.

Expressing regret that the item did not adequately report the ethical issue involved,

TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Mr Gale's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 24 March 1997

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Mr Gale referred the complaint to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

While TVNZ referred to "sanitising the news", Mr Gale said that it had not addressed

his concern about child viewers, or about the use of "viewer discretion" labels.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 9 April 1997

Maintaining that the standard G12 aspect of the complaint had been addressed, TVNZ

wrote:

To enlarge on that we emphasise that it is simply not possible to tailor the major

news bulletin of the day to a viewing audience which includes two-year-olds. It

is in the nature of news that the broadcasting of it will sometimes be

incompatible with the interests of a child of that age. However, to exclude such

material is incompatible with the obligation to supply a meaningful news service

which keeps the audience well informed.

Parents and caregivers, TVNZ continued, could reasonably be expected to watch the

news in the company of their children. It did not consider the item inappropriate as

the violent action was distant and inexplicit. Further, the item had been shown on the

24 hour CNN channel.

TVNZ concluded:

As far as a warning is concerned, we feel that this was a marginal case. In

hindsight, it could have been included but we remind the Authority that overuse

of warnings degrades their value. The absence of the warning does not, in our

view, amount to a breach of either of the standards against which this complaint

was tested.

Mr Gale's Final Comment - 16 April 1997

In response to TVNZ's comments, Mr Gale pointed out that his eight year-old had

seen the item and that it not like the Wild West as the presenter had claimed. He

considered the reference to the news as a "surrogate nanny" to be both insulting and

off the point. He also maintained that TVNZ had not, in its response to the

Authority,

dealt the presenter's introductory comment. It had not raised an ethical point, he

wrote, but made a link between fact and fiction. Mr Gale also rejected TVNZ's

attitude, which he described as a copycat approach, that it was all right to screen what

other broadcasters had shown.

In conclusion, Mr Gale stated:

In summary, I believe TVNZ has not made a good case for including this item in

any news programme, let alone one broadcast at 6pm. In addition, I do not think

TVNZ has adequately dealt with my complaint about the appropriateness of the

introduction to this item.