BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Nelson and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2019-113 (27 May 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Val Nelson
Number
2019-113
Programme
Newshub
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

The Authority did not uphold a complaint that a Newshub report regarding government employees accessing pornographic sites while at work breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards. The Newshub report included images of web addresses for the sites accessed. The Authority noted the public interest in the prevalence of, and harm caused by, pornography and considered that the content was within audience expectations for the news. In the context, the item was unlikely to cause widespread offence or undermine community standards and unlikely to adversely affect child viewers.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests


The broadcast

[1]  During the 6pm news on 11 November 2019 on channel Three, a Newshub item exposed the conduct of public servants accessing pornographic sites while at work. The introduction to the item was as follows:

Newshub can reveal that public servants have been accessing and attempting to access masses of pornography while at work. We have been investigating government officials’ attempts to open sites they shouldn’t visit, with the Department of Conservation, Māori Development and Ministry for the Environment among the worst. Political editor Tova O’Brien has this exclusive report.

[2]  The item included clips of pictures showing multiple web addresses of pornographic sites, and pictures of computer screens showing close-ups on the web addresses of some of these sites and sex chat sites.

[3]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix, in considering this complaint.

The complaint

[4]  Val Nelson complained that the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice1 for the following reasons:

  • ‘Providing viewers with the web addresses with which they could access offensive, sexual material was clearly irresponsible.’
  • Showing the web addresses would have ‘encouraged children to easily access disturbing and pornographic material’.
  • ‘My complaint refers to young people and I feel that the most vulnerable age… here is likely to be teenagers.’
  • The web addresses were clearly decipherable. It would have been more responsible to either not show full addresses, or blur them out.
  • Having the full web addresses was not necessary, not in the public interest and did not add to the news story.
  • There was no audience advisory warning parents that actual web addresses for pornographic sites would be shown.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  The broadcaster did not uphold the complaint. It stated that:

  • News programmes by their very nature often contain disturbing or challenging material.
  • While news programmes are broadcast before 8:30pm (during children’s viewing times), it is unlikely that young children will watch the news unsupervised.
  • News and current affairs programmes are not subject to censorship.
  • The report was newsworthy as it related to inappropriate conduct by public servants and ‘the wide array of sites [depicted] illustrated the breadth and scale of inappropriate activity’.

The relevant standards

[6]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) requires broadcasters to maintain current norms of good taste and decency consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast. Programmes considered to be harmful under this standard are those that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or items that undermine widely shared community standards.2 Context is highly relevant to the Authority’s assessment under this standard, including the nature of the programme, audience expectations and the level of public interest in the broadcast (guideline 1a).

[7]  The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) requires broadcasters to ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them, including material that unduly disturbs them, is harmful, or is likely to impair their physical, mental or social development.3 Contextual factors such as the target and likely audience, audience expectations and public interest in the item are relevant considerations (guideline 3b).

Our analysis

Freedom of expression and public interest

[8]  The starting point in our consideration of complaints is the right to freedom of expression. The right to freedom of expression is an important right in maintaining a healthy democracy. However it is not an absolute right and may be limited where the exercise of the right has caused, or may cause, harm. When we consider a complaint, we weigh the value in the programme and the right to freedom of expression against the harm alleged to have been caused by the broadcast. We must ensure that any limitation on freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

[9]  Looking first at the value in the Newshub item, we note that the level of public interest in a broadcast is an important consideration.4 We consider the news item concerned discussed a matter of legitimate public interest relating to matters of government or public administration. It addressed allegations of conduct of government employees which had the potential to affect the New Zealand public who are served by these employees.

[10]  Next we considered the level of actual or potential harm caused by the broadcast item, with reference to the objectives of the standards described above.

Context

[11]  As we have identified above, context is an important consideration when assessing harm under both the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards.5 In assessing this matter we considered the following contextual factors to be relevant:

  • The item was an unclassified news item examining allegations of potential misconduct by government employees in several government departments. This is a matter of legitimate public interest.
  • The target audience was adults and any child viewers would likely be supervised.
  • The web addresses shown were actual addresses of sites that were alleged to have been visited or (blocked) sites employees were alleged to have attempted to visit.
  • The addresses were numerous, clear and discernible and were not censored or blurred out.
  • Due to the nature of the news report, the web addresses were a key focus of the item and demonstrated the scope of the issue.
  • The item generally only displayed the web addresses. No graphic images from the actual websites were shown.
  • There was no audience advisory or warning prior to the broadcast of the item.

Good Taste and Decency

[12]  We acknowledge that the item and its subject matter may have caused offence to some viewers. However, we reached the view that showing images of the website addresses in the context of an item that reported on public servants allegedly accessing pornography at work 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. 

[13]  We also considered the complainant’s submission that including the images was not necessary and did not add to the news story. We do not agree with that view. Television is a visual medium and we consider that the use of the images of numerous sites had the effect of highlighting the scope and seriousness of the alleged conduct.

Children’s Interests

[14]  The children’s interests standard addresses the interests of children under the age of 14 (rather than ‘teenagers’).6 We accept that showing images of the website addresses had the potential to lead some viewers to seek out material that is harmful. However, we are of the view that the item would have gone over the heads of most children watching.

[15]  We are also aware that website addresses for pornography sites are already easily accessible using various search engines. Accordingly, the programme did not make online pornography any more accessible to viewers than it is already.

[16]  Further, as we have previously recognised, news items are targeted at adult audiences and it is unlikely that children will watch them unsupervised.7 Parental and caregiver supervision is likely to mitigate any potential harm to children.

[17]  Parents and caregivers can also choose to further safeguard their children against potentially harmful material by using available parental controls on devices8 and parental locks available in respect of both pay television and free-to-air television.9

[18]  For these reasons we consider it unlikely that the broadcast would have adversely affected child viewers.

Conclusion

[19]  Taking into account the above factors, we find that the broadcast did not breach the good taste and decency or the children’s interests standards. We have not found actual or potential harm which warrants restricting the right to freedom of expression in this case. Therefore, we do not uphold Ms Nelson’s complaint.

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

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

26 May 2020  

  

 

Appendix

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

1.  Val Nelson’s original complaint – 11 November 2019

2.  MediaWorks’ decision on the complaint – 6 December 2019

3.  Ms Nelson’s referral to the Authority – 18 December 2019

4.  MediaWorks’ confirmation no further comment – 17 January 2020


1 The Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice was refreshed with effect from 1 May 2020. This complaint has been determined under the April 2016 version of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice as the relevant broadcast pre-dated the 1 May 2020 version.
2 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
3 Commentary: Children’s Interests, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 13
4 Freedom of expression, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, at page 6
5 Guidelines 1a and 3b
6 Definitions: Child, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, at page 9
7 Lowry and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-051 at [9]
8 https://www.netsafe.org.nz/online-safety-parent-toolkit/
9 https://www.safeviewing.co.nz