Joseph and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-129 (9 February 2021)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Richard Joseph
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a good taste and decency complaint that the treatment of a clip showing a ‘devastating’ explosion in Lebanon was inappropriate in a segment rounding up ‘all the crazy, messed-up oddities’ of the week. The context and the importance of freedom of expression meant there was no harm justifying regulatory intervention in the circumstances.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency; Discrimination and Denigration
 A segment on Seven Sharp called ‘The Friday Countdown’ showcases clips from the week to ‘dwell on all the crazy, messed-up oddities’. On 7 August 2020 this included footage showing an explosion in Beirut which resulted in more than 200 deaths.2 The clip was from a wedding taking place at the time:
Devastation in Lebanon, but some good news, this bride whose photo shoot was interrupted by the biggest blast since Hiroshima, was uninjured. And the wedding continued. And some zen amongst the wreckage as a grandma tickled Auld Lang Syne out on her rubble-covered ivories.
 The other clips, to various music with a voice-over from presenter Jeremy Wells, were:
- ‘Dinosaur news’ showing woolly mammoth bones dug up in Russia
- Extracts from the last speech in Parliament for the year of ‘our own political fossil and national treasure, Winston Peters’
- ‘Beaver news’ showing ‘the toothy mammalian cuties’ released back into the wild in the UK
- Footage of surfers and mother and baby humpback whales after ‘two surfers in Australia ended up in hospital after being swamped by the tail’
- Extracts of an interview with US President Donald Trump
- ‘Caught-on-tape news’ showing a garbage collector dancing on a toy pony
- ‘Cheeky stunt devils’ performing bike tricks in the back of a live shot from the previous night’s episode of Seven Sharp.
 Richard Joseph complained the segment breached the good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards because:
- ‘amongst other light-hearted items’ were ‘some images of the devastating Beirut explosion from this week, set to music and with stories [TVNZ] appeared to think were fun and quirky.’
- This was ‘appalling, highly offensive and in incredibly bad taste.’
- ‘…the destruction, death and injury that took place just this week’ should not be included with ‘light-hearted entertainment’.
- ‘There would be outrage if a similar story was shown in the same way relating to an NZ tragedy so soon after the death and destruction’.
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not uphold Mr Joseph’s complaint for the following reasons:
- The Friday Countdown is generally ‘a light-hearted segment to end the week’, but does occasionally ‘touch on more serious issues’.
- This piece was ‘a celebration of people rising above tragedy and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity. The young woman didn’t give up and despite the tragedy of the explosion she was able to get the photos of her wedding in her dream dress. The elderly lady kept playing piano despite the destruction around her.’
- While ‘[it] was a change of pace within the Countdown…it was a celebration of the human spirit and our ability to rise above’.
- It was ‘reasonably clear to viewers… from the footage used and the tone of the commentary’ that the footage of the explosion was not intended to be humorous.
- ‘The segment was consistent with the kind of current affairs topics which often feature on the programme, and the tone surrounding the footage from Lebanon was appropriate to the incident being shown.’
- Seven Sharp is aimed at an adult audience and ‘there is an expectation that parents exercise discretion around viewing news and current affairs programmes with their children’.
- ‘News and current affairs broadcasts often discuss current events including serious crime such as murder, child abuse, rape, terror attacks and natural disasters of a large scale where people are killed’.
- TVNZ did ‘not agree that the footage would lead to the denigration or discrimination of any section of the community. There was no intention to trivialise the effects of the explosion, rather the Seven Sharp programme has stated that the footage was included as a celebration of people rising above tragedy and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity.’
 The good taste and decency standard3 protects audience members from viewing broadcasts likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. The context in which content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast are relevant.4
 The discrimination and denigration standard5 states broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief. It protects sections of the community from verbal and other attacks, and fosters a community commitment to equality.6
 We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 The right to freedom of expression is important in a democracy and we must weigh this against the potential harm caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint when the resulting limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified, in light of the harm caused.
 Looking first at the value and public interest in the item, we acknowledge the role the media play in informing the New Zealand public of international events, including human interest stories that arise from such events. We have previously considered how the human interest aspect of a news story can be emphasised by impactful or powerful images, which demonstrate the nature and gravity of events.7
 Against this we have considered the harm alleged in this case, to audiences generally, by causing distress and offence through the broadcast of images depicting a devastating explosion.
Good taste and decency
 This was an attempt to take a positive piece of news from a terrible event, and as submitted by TVNZ, celebrate the ‘triumph of the human spirit’. However, we agree in the context the clip could have been jarring for audiences and some will have found it to be insensitive and in poor taste.
 Having said that, context is crucial in assessing any potential harm under the good taste and decency standard. In this case there are a number of contextual factors that mitigated the likelihood of harm:
- The segment was signalled as highlighting ‘crazy, messed-up oddities’.
- The voice-over acknowledged the ‘devastation’ of the explosion.
- Seven Sharp is aimed at an adult audience.
- There is an established audience expectation that Seven Sharp may include coverage of serious events globally, albeit sometimes treated in a less serious manner than by other news and current affairs programmes.
- There are also well-established audience expectations of Mr Wells’ style.
- The clip showed buildings being damaged but did not depict graphic human injuries or death. It was not particularly explicit.
- The clip and the voiceover attempted to highlight examples of a ‘silver lining’ in an otherwise devastating event.
 In this context, although some viewers may have found the inclusion of the clip distasteful, we have not found harm at a level that justifies regulatory intervention or restricting freedom of expression.
 Therefore we do not uphold the good taste and decency complaint.
Discrimination and denigration
 Mr Joseph was concerned about the treatment of a tragedy that took place in the Middle East, and suggested the broadcaster would treat such things differently if they took place in New Zealand. This does not amount to a breach of standards.
 This standard is concerned with content that encourages the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment, or devalues the reputation of a particular section of the community.8
 We did not find any content in the broadcast which condemned or encouraged differing treatment, or devalued the reputation, of any such groups. Therefore we find no breach of this standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
9 February 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Richard Joseph’s complaint to TVNZ – 7 August 2020
2 TVNZ’s decision – 4 September 2020
3 Mr Joseph’s referral to the Authority – 26 September 2020
4 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 20 November 2020
1 Susie Staley declared a conflict of interest and did not participate in the determination of this complaint.
2 “Lebanon explosion: Deadly fuel tank blast rocks Beirut” BBC News (online ed, 9 October 2020)
3 Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Guideline 1a
5 Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
6 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
7 See, for example, Grant and Phillips and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2019-013 at ; Wakelin and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-060 at  and Pask and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2019-057 at 
8 Guideline 6a