BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Maysmor and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2021-048 (21 July 2021)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Bob Maysmor
Number
2021-048
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about multiple images of needles and vaccinations being performed shown in two Newshub Live at 6pm items reporting on COVID-19. The Authority found the images were unlikely to cause widespread undue offence. There is a high public interest and value in news reporting about the vaccination programme. In the context of a news item, the images would not adversely affect child viewers. The balance standard did not apply.

Not Upheld: Good taste and decency, Children’s interests, Balance


The broadcasts

[1]  Two broadcasts of Newshub Live at 6pm on 14 and 15 April 2021 reported on developments with the COVID-19 pandemic in New Zealand.  

[2]  The broadcast on 14 April 2021 included items about an Auckland MIQ worker who had tested positive for COVID-19 after not being tested for five months, reports of border workers not being tested regularly and an oversupply of 1400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine being provided to Burwood Hospital. The item on 15 April 2021 reported on the demand for general practitioners to administer the vaccine to their patients.

[3]  Both broadcasts included multiple images of medical staff holding needles, pictures of the needles and people being administered injections with needles.

The complaint

[4]  Bob Maysmor complained about the images of needles featured in the broadcasts. He argued the imagery was ‘sensationalism’ and could cause stress to people who have a phobia of needles, frighten children who may be afraid of needles, and have the effect of discouraging people from being vaccinated.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  Discovery apologised for any distress the broadcasts may have caused the complainant but did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • The broadcast is a news programme with an adult target audience.
  • The broadcast did not contain any offensive language, nudity, violence or sexual material.
  • The footage was in the context of the subject being reported and was not shown gratuitously.
  • There is a high public interest in reporting on the COVID-19 vaccine and viewers should be able to see what a vaccine entails.
  • The balance standard cannot be applied to footage alone and therefore there is no breach of this standard.

The relevant standards

[6]  The good taste and decency standard1 states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast. The standard is intended to protect audiences from content likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.2

[7]  The children’s interests standard3 requires broadcasters to ensure children are protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. Material likely to be considered under this standard includes violent content or themes, offensive language, social or domestic friction and dangerous, antisocial or illegal behaviour where such material is outside the expectations of the programme’s classification.4

[8]  The balance standard5 states when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.6 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.7

Our analysis

[9]  We have watched the broadcasts and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[10]  As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. As we may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified, we weigh the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast.8

[11]  There is high public value in news reporting about the COVID-19 vaccination programme. This means the threshold for regulatory intervention in this situation is high.

Good Taste and Decency and Children’s Interests

[12]  Context is an important consideration in assessing complaints under the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards.9

[13]  We have considered the following factors:10

  • The nature of the programme and target audience: Newshub Live at 6pm is a news programme with an adult target audience. There is an expectation that parents exercise discretion around viewing news and current affairs programmes with their children.11
  • Audience expectations of the programme: news items often involve disturbing or challenging material and this is within audience expectations.
  • Use of the images: while there were multiple and repeated images of needles, in the context of a broadcast reporting on the COVID-19 vaccine, the images were justified and not used in a gratuitous way.
  • The public interest in the broadcast: The items which were on the testing of border workers and the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine were of significant public interest. 

[14]  While we acknowledge some viewers may have been disturbed by the images of needles, noting the contextual factors above we find that use of the images was within audience expectations for the news. As a news item, it was unlikely to cause widespread offence or undermine community standards as contemplated under the good taste and decency standard.

[15]  In addition, as we have previously found, the standards recognise that, in news programmes, disturbing or alarming material is often shown to reflect the world we live in.12  

[16]  We do not consider that the images of needles or vaccinations would breach the children’s interests standard, taking into account the factors noted in paragraph [13] above – particularly that news items are targeted at adult audiences and it is unlikely that children will watch them unsupervised.13 Parental supervision is likely to mitigate any potential harm to children who may be disturbed by seeing the images of needles.

Balance

[17]  For the balance standard to apply, the subject matter of the broadcast must be an issue of ‘public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’ and it must be ‘discussed’. An issue of public importance is something that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public. A controversial issue is one which has topical currency, and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.14

[18]  While the issue of COVID-19 vaccines is a significant matter of public importance on which there are competing viewpoints, this complaint does not address the discussion of these issues rather it relates to the images used in the news report. Therefore the balance standard does not apply.

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

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair
21 July 2021

 

 

Appendix

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

1  Mr Maysmor’s first formal complaint – 14 April 2021

2  Mr Maysmor’s second formal complaint – 15 April 2021

3  Discovery’s response to the complaint – 6 May 2021

4  Mr Maysmor’s referral – 20 May 2021

5  Discovery’s confirmation of no further comments – 24 May 2021


1 Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
3 Standard 3 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Guideline 3a
5 Standard 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
6 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
7 As above
8 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
9 Guidelines 1a and 3c
10 As above
11 Lowry and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-051 at [9]
12 Lewis and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2017-069 at [14]
13 Lowry and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-051 at [9]
14 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18