BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Lay and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2007-002

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Bruce Lay
3 News
CanWest TVWorks Ltd
TV3 # 2

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item about snipers in Baghdad shooting American soldiers – showed footage of nine soldiers being shot – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and violence standards

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 10 (violence) – strong warning – images were an integral part of the story – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An item on 3 News, broadcast at 6pm on 10 November 2006, reported the recent occurrence of snipers shooting American soldiers in Baghdad, Iraq, and videotaping the shootings. As the reporter spoke, images of nine soldiers being shot were shown during the item. The following verbal warning preceded the item:

A warning, the pictures in this report by ITV’s Bill Nealy could be very disturbing.


[2]  Bruce Lay made a formal complaint about the item to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, arguing that it had breached Standards 1 (good taste and decency) and 10 (violence). Although a warning had preceded the footage of soldiers being shot, he wrote, the footage “stooped to a new low”. In Mr Lay’s view, the images were gratuitous and unwarranted. He wrote:

In fact, you did not even have to show any soldiers being shot in order to make your point about the sniper and how the violence in Iraq is escalating to new heights.

[3]  …Although one could argue that what happened is life and reality, there is a certain standard that needs to be maintained for a prime-time news show. What was displayed didn’t help the telling of the story – it was just an example of voyeurism masquerading as journalism.


[4]  Standards 1 and 10 and guideline 10g of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Standard 10 Violence

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

Guideline 10g 

News, current affairs and factual programmes will, by their nature, often contain violent, disturbing or alarming material. Broadcasters should not falsify, by omission, a world in which much violence and brutality occurs. When such scenes are necessarily included to serve the public interest, the fact that violence has painful and bloody consequences should be made clear. However, editors and producers must use judgement and discretion in deciding the degree of graphic detail to be included in news programmes when children are likely to be watching. Warnings within news programmes must be used as appropriate.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]  The broadcaster stated that to constitute a breach of Standard 1 (good taste and decency), the broadcast material would have to be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. It also said that the Authority had accepted that news and current affairs programmes that were screened prior to 8.30pm were unlikely to be watched by unsupervised young children.

[6]  CanWest noted that a warning had preceded the item, and it contended that this was adequate to inform viewers of the likely content. It found that Standard 1 was not breached.

[7]  Considering Standard 10 (violence), the broadcaster stated that the inclusion of a warning met the requirements of the standard. It contended that the sniper shootings were not shown gratuitously, and that the repetition of the images was appropriate in the context of the news item and “enabled the viewer to appreciate the nature and extent of the issue facing foreign troops in Iraq”.

Referral to the Authority

[8]  Dissatisfied with CanWest’s response, Mr Lay referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[9]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[10]  When the Authority determines a complaint alleging a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context in which the programme was broadcast. On this occasion, relevant contextual factors include:

  • 3 News is unclassified and targeted at an adult audience
  • the item was broadcast at 6pm
  • a strong warning preceded the item
  • the footage was sometimes grainy and indistinct

[11]  The Authority acknowledges that the images would have been distressing to some viewers. However, it considers that the video footage taken by the Iraqi sniper was integral to the news item, as it conveyed the grim reality of a new development in the war.

[12]  Taking into account the above contextual factors, the Authority is of the view that use of the images did not breach Standard 1 (good taste and decency).

Standard 10 (violence)

[13]  Standard 10 requires broadcasters to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. On this occasion, the Authority considers that guideline 10g (see paragraph [3]) is relevant to its determination of whether the standard was breached.

[14]  The Authority observes that a strong warning preceded the item, stating that the images shown could be “very disturbing”. It considers that the introduction to the item and the warning made it clear that the item’s content was not suitable for children, and afforded parents and caregivers adequate opportunity to exercise discretion.

[15]  The Authority disagrees with the complainant’s view that the images were gratuitous and unwarranted. As noted above, it considers that the footage was an essential part of the news item, and the Authority finds that it was not inappropriate to broadcast a number of sniper killings in order to illustrate that they were not a rare event.

[16]  Taking into account the warning and the relevance of the images to the story, the Authority considers that CanWest exercised sufficient care and discretion in relation to the violence broadcast on this occasion. It finds that Standard 10 was not breached.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
23 March 2007


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

1    Bruce Lay’s formal complaint – 11 November 2006

2    CanWest’s decision on the formal complaint – 6 December 2006

3    Mr Lay’s referral to the Authority – 8 January 2007

4    CanWest’s response to the Authority – 7 February 2007