BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Moyer and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2019-034 (19 August 2019)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Tom Moyer
Number
2019-034
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

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

A complaint about the use of the alleged mosque attacker’s name during a 1 News report was not upheld. The Authority found that in the context of the item the single use of the name and the broadcast’s limited reference to violence did not breach the violence standard.

Not Upheld: Violence


The broadcast

[1]  A 1 News segment reported that the alleged mosque attacker had made a formal complaint that they were not being treated fairly in prison. During the segment the presenter used the alleged attacker’s full name. The segment discussed the possible complaint and concluded by saying ‘[The Department of] Corrections won‘t confirm the complaint and says for security reasons it’s unable to provide any further information.’

[2]  The item was broadcast at 6pm on 31 March 2019 on TVNZ 1.

[3]  As part of our consideration of this complaint, we have viewed a recording of the broadcast and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[4]  Tom Moyer complained that the broadcast breached the violence standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, for the following key reasons:

  • The Prime Minister assured the public that the name of the alleged attacker would not be used by her or the media. This assurance was breached by TVNZ and gave the alleged attacker ‘notoriety’.
  • He had no issue with the story itself, only with the use of the alleged attacker’s name in the broadcast.
  • Even though the alleged attacker was only named once in the broadcast, it gave fame and glorification and they ‘will be remembered much longer than the people who were killed at the Christchurch mosques.’     
  • Psychologists have determined that naming criminals give motivation for others to seek ‘infamy’.     
  • While the name was published by other New Zealand news sources, this did not make it acceptable. ‘Many well respected commentators’ have refused to name the alleged attacker.  

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  With respect to the naming of the alleged attacker, TVNZ submitted:

  • The alleged attacker's name has not been suppressed by the Court and media will be permitted to report on the trial. While TVNZ understands that the Prime Minister has stated that she will not name them, and she encourages others not to do so also, ‘this is a personal decision which she has chosen to take, as is her right.’
  • News organisations, ‘especially in times of crisis like on the day of the shooting and in the continued reporting’ of the alleged attacker’s trial, have a wider duty to report what is occurring as information comes to hand.
  • The alleged attacker's name was given only once and there was no ‘implied glorification’ of their views.
  • The senior editors representing the major accredited news media companies in New Zealand (TVNZ, Stuff, MediaWorks, NZME and RNZ) have agreed on protocols for the reporting of the trial. They have stated:

As editors we are mindful of the public interest in the trial, in New Zealand and internationally.

We are also mindful of our role as the ‘eyes and ears of the public’ in the context of court reporting. In this instance, we acknowledge the particular importance of this function, given the many victims’ friends and families outside New Zealand who may otherwise be unable to engage in the trial process.

We are aware that the accused may attempt to use the trial as a platform to amplify white supremacist and/or terrorist views or ideology.

  • The agreed protocols will limit, to the extent that is compatible with the principles of open justice, any coverage of statements that actively champion white supremacist or terrorist ideology.              
  • TVNZ's head of news and current affairs said of the alleged attacker:

We certainly don’t want to give [them] any sense of a platform whatsoever and we’re very cognisant of the effect this event has had on many New Zealanders and will continue to have, especially on the people of Christchurch.

  • The alleged attacker’s name has been published by all major New Zealand media outlets. Newshub’s Head of News stated amongst other things that the ‘naming of accused and convicted criminals is a cornerstone of open justice and open justice is a cornerstone of our free society.’

[6]  With respect to the violence standard, TVNZ submitted the following:

  • The following contextual factors are relevant:
    • 1 News is aimed at an adult audience.
    • The BSA has acknowledged that ‘children of a vulnerable age are unlikely to watch the news unattended.’1 There is an expectation that parents exercise discretion around viewing news and current affairs programmes with their children.
    • News 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. There is an expectation that the broadcasts will carry some footage of crimes and disasters including film of bodies, accidents and civil unrest.
    • The discussion involved the alleged attacker’s formal complaint about their treatment in prison. Only broad information was given about this.
    • The alleged attacker’s own words were not heard and no information or detail about their white supremacist views were broadcast.
    • Careful thought was applied by 1 News in regard to the discussion and in using the alleged attacker’s name.
  • The discussion in the 1 News item concerned a complaint made by the alleged attacker regarding their rights as a prisoner. No violent material was shown or discussed in the item and so the violence standard is not applicable.

The violence standard

[7]  The violence standard (Standard 4) states that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. Guideline 4c of the standard provides that broadcasters should exercise caution with content likely to incite or encourage violence or brutality.

Our findings

[8]  In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. However, this is not an absolute right. When considering a complaint, the Authority will consider whether a broadcast has caused harm, and whether the broadcaster has appropriately balanced the right to freedom of expression with the obligation to avoid harm. Accordingly, when we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we weigh the value of the programme and the importance of the expression against the level of actual or potential harm that may be caused by the broadcast.

[9]  On this occasion the complainant alleges that the harm arises from naming the alleged shooter, which will give the alleged shooter fame and recognition and which may lead others to engage in similar activity. The complainant submits that this is a breach of the violence standard.

[10]  The purpose of the standard is to protect audiences from unduly disturbing violent content.2 In this case, the broadcast was a straightforward news report about a complaint purportedly made by the alleged attacker to the Department of Corrections. The report featured no depiction of violence and the only reference to violence was calling them the ‘alleged mosque gunman’.3

[11]  The role of news media is to provide the community with accurate, unbiased and timely information about news and current events without causing harm. The standards provide guidance as to how this obligation may be discharged. Our broadcasting standards do not currently have specific guidelines for reporting on terrorist events, though a number of standards are relevant for guiding broadcasters in the discharge of this function. In addition, court orders may also circumscribe what can be reported. The violence standard and guidelines do not place any restrictions on the use of an accused’s name and, while the Prime Minister may have expressed her preference that the accused’s name not be used, it is the standard and guidelines that the Authority must apply.

[12]  In considering whether the reference to the alleged attacker or use of the alleged attacker’s name amounted to ‘unduly disturbing violent content’ or ‘content likely to incite or encourage violence or brutality’ for the purposes of the standard, context is ‘crucial’.4 In this case contextual factors include:

  • 1 News is an unclassified news programme with an adult target audience.
  • The broadcast was focused on a newsworthy issue of public interest (prisoner’s rights).
  • The alleged attacker’s name was only used once in the broadcast.
  • The reference to violence (the mosque attacks) was brief and contained no graphic detail.
  • There was no description of the alleged attacker’s ideology or beliefs.

[13]  Taking into account these contextual factors we do not consider that the reference to the mosque attacks or the use of the accused’s name amounted to ‘unduly disturbing violent content’ or content likely to ‘incite or encourage violence or brutality’ for the purposes of this standard.

[14]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

19 August 2019  

 


Appendix

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

1.     Tom Moyer’s formal complaint – 31 March 2019

2.     TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 1 May 2019

3.     Mr Moyer’s referral to the Authority – 28 May 2019

4.     TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 7 June 2019     



1 Barker and Television New Zealand Limited, Decision 2000-033
2 Commentary: Violence, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 14
3 Guideline 4a
4 Commentary: Violence, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 14