BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

NT and Television New Zealand - 2019-028 (19 August 2019)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainant
  • NT
Number
2019-028
Programme
1 News at 6pm
Channel/Station
Television New Zealand

Summary 

Warning: This decision contains content that some readers may find distressing.  

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

Following the 15 March 2019 attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, 1 News at 6pm twice broadcast an edited clip taken from the alleged attacker’s 17 minute livestream video. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the broadcast was in breach of the good taste and decency and violence standards. The content of the clip, and the broadcast as a whole, was newsworthy and had a high level of public interest. The very brief clip was an edited segment of the livestream video which provided information to audiences, but which did not contain explicit graphic or violent content and did not promote or glorify the actions of the attacker. Specific warnings and extensive signposting ensured audiences were sufficiently informed about the disturbing nature of the content. Taking into account the unprecedented nature of these attacks in New Zealand, the Authority found that the alleged harm did not outweigh the important right to freedom of expression and the high level of public interest in the broadcast. The Authority’s intervention in upholding the complaint would therefore represent an unreasonable or unjustified limit on the right to freedom of expression.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Violence  


The broadcast and background

[1]  Following the 15 March 2019 attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, 1 News at 6pm twice broadcast an edited clip taken from the alleged attacker’s 17 minute livestream video. The clip was very brief, and showed a man’s hands holding a weapon and reaching for two weapons in the open boot of his car. White writing on the weapons was not legible and the man’s face could not be seen.

[2]  In voiceover, reporter Lisa Davies said:

Loading a shotgun, the attacker walks from his vehicle in broad daylight towards the mosque. We won’t show you anymore from this point.

[3]  At around 6pm, presenter Simon Dallow introduced the programme as follows:

Good evening. If you’re just joining our coverage the country is reeling from a mass shooting in Christchurch. There have been multiple deaths and many more people are injured after a gunman opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch this afternoon. It’s been described as one of New Zealand’s darkest days. And just a warning, as I say, if you’re just joining us – tonight’s coverage is confronting and it contains distressing pictures and information.

[4]  This warning was repeated prior to the second broadcast of the clip, at around 6.23pm.

[5]  A graphic behind the presenter, displayed during both warnings read: ‘Breaking News – Mass Shooting’. During the first warning, a breaking news banner at the bottom of the screen read: ‘Breaking News – Major shooting in Christchurch.’

[6]  Given the nature of this complaint, we have granted name suppression to the complainant and have referred to them throughout as ‘NT’.

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

[8]  We have also been assisted in our determination by the engagement of an independent cultural advisor, to provide a Muslim perspective on the issues raised. We co-opted the independent advisor under section 26(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 to provide this assistance. While an advisor co-opted to the Authority does not have voting power, they are permitted to participate in the Authority’s deliberations. We are grateful for the assistance provided to us in this case.

DIA guidance and OFLC’s classification decision

[9]  On 15 March 2019, after this broadcast and shortly before 11pm, the Department of Internal Affairs issued a press release notifying the public that the full 17-minute livestream video was likely to be objectionable content under New Zealand law. During the afternoon, the Commissioner of New Zealand Police also issued a warning during his press statements that a livestreamed video was in circulation and should not be viewed or distributed.

[10]  On 18 March 2019, three days after this broadcast, the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) classified the full livestream video as objectionable, meaning that it is illegal for anyone in New Zealand to view, possess or distribute the full video in any form.1

[11]  On 20 March 2019, OFLC released guidance about the classification decision and particularly around the use of excerpts or stills taken from the full video. The Chief Censor noted that ‘the classification of the complete video set did not automatically mean that any image or short extract from it was also objectionable. However it is very important for people to be aware that any edited clips… taken from the full video, that depict scenes of violence, injury or death, or that promote terrorism, may well also be objectionable.’2 

[12]  The Chief Censor also noted that ‘news organisations have needed to make ethical judgements about what images they broadcast…’ and ‘news media and all New Zealanders needed to carefully consider the impact of sharing, broadcasting or publishing any part of this video’, given the potential for harm.3

[13]  OFLC’s role is to classify publications under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993. While OFLC’s classification decision is a relevant factor, our role under the Broadcasting Act 1989 is to determine whether TVNZ’s decision to broadcast an edited clip of the footage, at the time that it did during its coverage, was in breach of broadcasting standards. This requires us to consider contextual factors and broadcasting standards guidelines as they apply in this news reporting environment. This is the focus of our deliberations and the role that we play as the Authority with oversight of broadcasting standards.

The complaint and the broadcaster’s response

[14]  NT complained that this broadcast breached the good taste and decency and violence standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, for the following reasons:  

  • TVNZ repeatedly played a clip of the gunman beginning his ‘horrific rampage’ in Christchurch, including footage of the weapon that was used in the attacks. The violence in the clip was strongly implied, and while not as distressing as footage of people being shot, it was disturbing in the context of the attacks that occurred.
  • TVNZ should have considered factors such as New Zealand Police warnings about the video and the actions of other national broadcasters, who made the decision not to publish footage or related material.
  • Given Police had advised of the objectionable nature of the footage (later confirmed by OFLC), it was inappropriate for TVNZ to make the distinction between footage that was ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ for broadcast.
  • Keeping the public informed did not require TVNZ to broadcast the footage, whether in whole or in part. It was not clear what information was provided to the public by showing this clip that could not have been provided verbally by a newsreader or reporter.
  • By showing the footage, TVNZ was complicit in the distribution of the video and glorification of the attacks, which was likely to distress and anger many viewers. It also highlighted the video’s existence to audiences who may have subsequently sought it out to view. The broadcast therefore had the potential to glorify and encourage violence.

[15]  TVNZ responded:

  • Due care was exercised in the use of footage in 1 News
  • The role of media, and the intention in this case, was to inform the public about an event of utmost public importance, without publishing material that was graphic or unduly upsetting.
  • TVNZ engaged in high level editorial discussions at an early stage and as events unfolded TVNZ reassessed its editorial commitments on an hourly basis. The inclusion of any sensitive footage in news coverage was signed off by TVNZ’s Head of News before broadcast.
  • The portion of the video that was shown was carefully selected. It showed the alleged shooter’s level of pre-meditation, without showing any violence or the alleged shooter himself. It was not graphic or explicit and was intended to provide information to viewers about what had happened. Warnings were given periodically throughout the bulletin.
  • This event was unprecedented in New Zealand and best attempts were made by 1 News to navigate the line between providing information to the public and avoiding harm to viewers.
  • The use of footage was discussed with OFLC on 18 March 2019, following the broadcast. OFLC advised that while the full 17-minute recording had been classified as objectionable, judicious use of snippets in a news context (which did not cause harm) may have been acceptable for broadcast.
  • This approach should be applied in consideration of the complaint. 1 News demonstrated care in both the reporting and use of the alleged shooter’s footage. Warnings were given and only the ‘barest minimum’ of the livestream was shown.

The standards and relevant guidelines

[16]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) states that current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast.

[17]  The purpose of the standard is to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Context is crucial, as a broadcast’s context may justify the inclusion of distasteful material or minimise its harmfulness.4   

[18]  Broadcasters should take effective steps to inform audiences of the nature of the programme, to enable viewers to regulate their own and children’s viewing behaviour.5  If content is likely to offend or disturb a significant section of the audience, an appropriate audience advisory should be broadcast prior to the content.6

[19]  The violence standard (Standard 4) requires broadcasters to exercise care and discretion when portraying violence. Violent content should be appropriate to the context of the programme, and classified carefully.

[20]  In news and current affairs programmes, disturbing or alarming material should be justified in the public interest and an audience advisory broadcast when appropriate.7 Broadcasters should also be mindful of the cumulative effect of violence or violent incidents and themes within broadcasts.8

[21]  Finally, broadcasters should exercise caution with content likely to incite or encourage violence or brutality.9

Freedom of expression and the public interest

[22]  When we make a decision on a complaint that broadcasting standards have been breached, our task is to weigh the value of the programme, in terms of the right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused. Harm can be caused either to individuals or to audiences generally. We also consider wider contextual factors, such as the public interest in the broadcast.

[23]  In terms of the potential harm, the complainant has submitted that the broadcast of this clip, in the wider context of the attacks, had the potential to significantly distress or disturb audiences and to glorify or promote the actions and messages of the alleged attacker.

[24]  We have therefore considered whether harm could be caused to audiences generally, both in Christchurch and around New Zealand. We have also considered the particular harm that might be caused to the family and friends of the victims and the New Zealand Muslim community, who were targeted in these attacks.

[25]  We must weigh this potential harm against the right to freedom of expression, which encompasses both the right of the broadcaster to impart ideas and information, and the audience’s right to receive information. During major news events, and particularly in times of crisis, the media play a critical role in providing information to audiences. The Authority has previously recognised that:10     

Members of the public rely on media sources for information about [crisis events] and advice regarding their safety and what is happening around them. They have a right to know about the scale and impact of any event, so that they can act and prepare themselves accordingly. In this respect the media delivers an important public service and it is crucial that this is done in a timely way, as information becomes available.

[26]  We acknowledge that the 15 March attacks were an extreme and unprecedented situation for broadcasters and New Zealand. Broadcasters had a critical role to play in keeping the community informed as events unfolded. This required them to provide New Zealanders with accurate and unbiased information about a developing situation, so that the community could assess what had occurred and determine their own views and response.

[27]  At the time of broadcast, TVNZ therefore needed to balance its duty to provide sufficient information and detail to the public, while also avoiding harm to viewers. This weighing exercise took place as events unfolded and as new information came to hand, during unprecedented and challenging circumstances.

[28]  We have found that the broadcast of this clip was newsworthy and had a high level of public interest. As we have said above, the clip was broadcast in the context of an unprecedented and developing story, which presented new challenges for broadcast media in New Zealand. It was relevant to providing the community with information about what had occurred and the seriousness of the event. It was also relevant to national security at a time when New Zealand Police did not yet know whether the alleged attacker was working alone or with others.

[29]  However, we agree with the complainant that this clip had the potential to cause harm, particularly to the Muslim community and to the family and friends of victims. Given the disturbing implications of the video and the risk of glorifying or perpetuating the messages of the alleged attacker, TVNZ needed to take steps to ensure the potential harm to audiences was mitigated.

[30]  TVNZ selected a short section of the video which provided information to audiences but which did not contain explicit graphic or violent content. The alleged attacker’s visual messages (visible on the guns) were not legible in the very brief clip. Verbal warnings for ‘confronting’ and ‘distressing’ images were provided prior to each broadcast of the clip. We have found that TVNZ exercised the appropriate level of care and discretion in its broadcast of potentially violent content, and took steps to manage audience expectations under challenging circumstances.

[31]  Our decision to uphold a complaint represents a limit on the right to freedom of expression. We can therefore only uphold complaints where the resulting limit on the right is reasonable and justified. In this case, we have found that the harm alleged did not outweigh the important right to freedom of expression and the high level of public interest in the broadcast, given the exceptional events that had occurred. We therefore consider that upholding the complaint would be unreasonable and unjustified in these circumstances. We set out our full reasons for this decision under each standard raised below.

Good Taste and Decency

[32]  In making our determination under the good taste and decency standard, we have considered the key issues below:

  • whether current norms of good taste and decency were maintained (taking into account contextual factors such as the level of public interest in the broadcast as a whole, the level of public interest in the clip itself, and the nature of the programme and the alleged harm)11
  • whether the broadcaster took sufficient steps to inform viewers of the nature of the coverage and the likely upcoming content (enabling viewers to regulate their own viewing behaviour, as well as the viewing behaviour of any children in their care)12, and
  • whether this content was likely to offend or disturb a significant section of the audience, and if so, whether an appropriate audience advisory was provided.13

Relevant contextual factors in this case

Public interest in the programme as a whole

[33]  We agreed that this programme as a whole had high value in terms of the right to freedom of expression and carried a high level of public interest. Given the unprecedented nature of these attacks in New Zealand, it was important that audiences were provided with sufficient information to enable them to understand the scale and significance of what had taken place. The media provide a critical service to the public when reporting on crisis events, and the information reported in this case was newsworthy.

[34]  This was TVNZ’s first full news bulletin on the day of the attack and provided an opportunity for the broadcaster to recap the information that had been gathered throughout the afternoon, particularly for the benefit of viewers who had just learned about the event.

[35]  In terms of the livestream video footage, the public was alerted to the existence of the footage prior to this broadcast by New Zealand Police, who issued the following statement via Twitter at 4.49pm:14   

Police are aware there is extremely distressing footage relating to the incident in Christchurch circulating online. We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed.

[36]  The Commissioner of New Zealand Police also referred to the footage prior to broadcast, stating in response to questions at around 5.30pm: ‘…it is very disturbing, it shouldn’t be in the public domain and we’re doing everything we can to remove it.’15

[37]  The existence of the footage was therefore a relatively recent and newsworthy development, which was important to report as context for the attacks and given its potential harm. The livestream video, which was uploaded to other platforms, was a highly significant element of these attacks and it was important for viewers to be aware of its existence and the harm it may cause.

Public interest in the broadcast clip

[38]  We also consider there was a level of public interest in the clip that was shown during 1 News. The content of the clip highlighted for viewers the alleged attacker’s level of pre meditation and preparedness, and also demonstrated his familiarity with the weapons shown in the clip. The use of images in this case reinforced the seriousness of the attack and would have had a higher impact for audiences than a verbal description.

[39]  It was also relevant to issues of national security, given that the Commissioner of Police had stated prior to broadcast ‘let’s not presume that the danger has gone’ and ‘we cannot assume there are not others at large’.16 The distinctive nature of the weapons shown may have resulted in relevant information being provided to the Police to assist its investigation and response.

[40]  We do accept that these images were challenging. In this regard, guidance has been issued by the BBC relating to the use of strong images in news reporting as follows:17 

Audiences do believe that strong images should be used if they feel the subject demands it and if the editorial justification is clear to them. They recognise a need for television news to sometimes push the boundaries and make an exceptional decision to show more robust images to fully convey the intensity of a story. However, our audiences are quick to spot gratuitous or sensational use of violent images.

[41]  Further, the High Court in Andrews and Television New Zealand Ltd recognised:18

In assessing an asserted defence of legitimate public concern, the Court will ordinarily permit a degree of journalistic latitude, so as to avoid robbing a story of its attendant detail, which adds colour and conviction….

[42]  We consider TVNZ’s use of these particular images was impactful, allowing viewers to understand the serious, methodical nature of the attack and the extensive preparation of the alleged attacker. In broadcasting this clip, we do not consider TVNZ made use of violent images in a ‘gratuitous or sensational’ way, and we have expanded on this further below. 

The nature of the clip and the alleged harm

[43]  In making our decision we must weigh the value of the broadcast, and the public interest in both the clip and the programme as a whole, against the harm alleged to have been caused. The complainant has submitted that they found the implications of this clip distressing and disturbing, given it shows the alleged attacker handling the weapons used during the imminent attacks. It is likely that many viewers would have felt the same way.

[44]  On weighing these considerations, we have found that the clip chosen by TVNZ was a very brief excerpt from the full video, broadcast in the context of an unprecedented act of violence in New Zealand’s history. The clip did not show the alleged attacker’s face, did not highlight the messages written on the weapons (that the alleged attacker might have hoped to widely disseminate to, and influence, viewers), and did not feature any explicit violent or graphic content. As we discuss in more detail below, we do not consider that the clip glorified or promoted the alleged attacker or his method or message. The weapons were not shown being fired, raised against any individuals or used in any way other than in the hand of the alleged attacker. The fact that the attacks were carried out using a military style semi automatic weapon was also a newsworthy element.

[45]  The complainant has argued that TVNZ should not have broadcast the footage at all, whether in edited form or in full, given the warnings issued by New Zealand Police and OFLC. However, the warnings and subsequent classification related to the video in its entirety, which showed an attack taking place and which featured graphic violent content. We consider that these very brief extracts were used ethically by the broadcaster to report on factual information relating to the attacks.

[46]  Any violence in this clip was implied, and while these implications may have been disturbing for some, we do not consider it follows that the clip should not have been broadcast at all, particularly given the level of public interest in the clip and the programme as a whole. However, given the potentially disturbing nature of the clip, particularly to the family and friends of victims, and the Muslim community generally, steps needed to be taken by the broadcaster to ensure any potential for harm was mitigated. We consider that this was done.

Glorification and promotion of the alleged attacker 

[47]  An important contextual factor for us to consider in this case is whether the broadcast of this clip could be said to have highlighted the video for members of the audience who might seek it out in full, or to have promoted or glorified the alleged attacker and his message.

[48]  While the broadcast may have highlighted the existence of the full video for viewers, it was clear from the context of the full report, and the reporter’s voiceover, that the video continued from this point and featured disturbing violent content. TVNZ did not in any way facilitate access to the full video or endorse viewers seeking out the video to watch in full. 

[49]  We acknowledge the complainant’s submission that, given New Zealand Police were attempting to remove the footage from online platforms, it was therefore ‘inappropriate’ for TVNZ to then broadcast an extract from that footage. The complainant argued that audiences could reasonably expect that news broadcasters would comply with Police guidance in such circumstances. We understand the complainant’s concern that broadcasting an extract from this footage could be seen as gratuitous and to promote the messages of the alleged attacker.

[50]  As we have noted above, the alleged attacker’s use of visual material and social media was an important element of this event and has been a key focus of New Zealand’s response, further emphasising the public interest in this information. It was essential, however, that in showing the excerpt media did not give primary focus to the attacker or his message, and we have taken into account the following commentary when it comes to the reporting of terrorist content:19

Two basic rules of media ethics apply to the coverage of terrorism: avoid giving unnecessary oxygen to the terrorist, and avoid unnecessarily violating standards of public decency. The way to do this is to apply a test of necessity: what is necessary to publish to give the public a sufficiently comprehensive account of what has happened?

...It is obvious that whoever gets footage out first will have the advantage of exposure in the early stages of media coverage… if the first footage takes the form of terrorist propaganda, then no matter how hellish or sensational it is, there is an added ethical duty to minimise what might be called “first footage advantage”.

[51]  The United Kingdom’s broadcasting regulator, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), considered these issues in its review of news coverage of the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013.20 Some coverage included detailed descriptions of the killing, while other reports featured cellphone footage captured at the scene, with one of the suspects speaking directly to the camera with a bloody machete and knife in his hands. Some complainants were concerned that this coverage gave the suspect a platform to justify his actions.

[52]  In its decision on these complaints, Ofcom stated:21

…news programming has a duty to inform the public as fully as possible when incidents such as this occur… Ofcom recognises that when covering a breaking and important news story, especially where the subject matter is potentially distressing and offensive, important and timely editorial judgement is required. Television journalists must balance the need to inform the public fully and in a timely way in a competitive news environment against the requirements of the Code.

[53]  Ofcom concluded that, while some of the coverage was detailed and at times distressing, the images were not too offensive for broadcast given they were appropriately scheduled and justified by the context. Taking into account the unprecedented nature of the incident, Ofcom found:22 

…the vast majority of the audience watched or listened to these news programmes with the expectation of viewing or hearing an up-to-date account and analysis of what had happened… These would be appropriately illustrated with the most relevant and dramatic pictures available at the time (television of course being a visual medium), or eye witness testimony.

[54]  In this case, the broadcast of the clip would have had a strong visual impact for audiences, but this visual impact needed to be carefully weighed against the potential harm and the significant risk of more widely disseminating terrorist propaganda.

[55]  We consider TVNZ took steps in this case to ensure it complied with its ethical duties, to minimise the risk of ‘first footage advantage’, and its duties under the standards. TVNZ provided only the information that was necessary to keep viewers informed, and the footage was not broadcast in a sensationalised or gratuitous way. The clip was clearly carefully chosen – it was very brief and did not contain any violent messaging or content. TVNZ did not amplify the content or give it more detailed features. The clip showed a glimpse of the raw footage, as it appeared on the social media platform. Given the unprecedented nature of these attacks, it was important that audiences were provided with information about what had occurred, provided this did not cause undue harm. In these circumstances, we do not consider the broadcast risked unduly emphasising the alleged attacker or his motives.

[56]  Given the potential for harm, and the potential risk of giving primary focus to the alleged attacker, it was essential that TVNZ took steps to mitigate the likely harm to audiences. For the reasons expanded upon below, we consider the steps taken by TVNZ in this case were appropriate, proportionate and reasonable in the circumstances, particularly given the unprecedented nature of the attacks in New Zealand.

Steps taken by the broadcaster

[57]  As we have said above, a key issue under the good taste and decency standard is whether the broadcaster took effective steps to inform audiences of the nature of the programme,23 as audiences who know what they are getting can then avoid certain material and/or supervise any children in their care.24 

[58]  While there was a high level of public interest in the clip and in the programme as a whole, we also consider the broadcast, in the context of the attacks, was likely to distress or disturb a significant section of the audience.25 As such, TVNZ was required to take steps to mitigate the likely harm and to ensure audiences were sufficiently informed about the upcoming content. Given the potential for harm, an appropriate audience advisory needed to be broadcast prior to the content.26 

[59]  We have therefore considered whether the verbal warning for ‘confronting’ and ‘distressing’ information and images, given prior to each broadcast of the clip, was sufficiently specific to inform viewers about the footage that was going to be broadcast.

[60]  We consider most viewers were likely to be aware of the disturbing nature of the attacks prior to this broadcast of 1 News. While some viewers tuning in at 6pm may have only just learned about the events of the day, extensive signposting and visual cues (including the breaking news banners and graphics) were broadcast alongside verbal warnings, which alerted viewers to the potentially distressing content. 

[61]  We acknowledge that, while the existence of the footage was referred to prior to 6pm, there was no specific reference to the livestream video, either prior to or during the particular segments in which the clip was broadcast. It is arguable that TVNZ could have provided more information and context around the clip that was shown, which would have ensured viewers were aware of the disturbing nature of the full video and the messaging behind it.

[62]  However, providing further context to the livestream video may have risked ‘giving unnecessary oxygen’27 to the attacker and the propaganda materials he had provided, which we understand were intended to glorify and promote extreme violence.

[63]  We consider TVNZ’s use of the footage in this case met ‘the test of necessity’ – showing only what was necessary to give the public a sufficiently comprehensive account of what had occurred.28 At this time, New Zealanders wanted to be provided with as much information as possible, so that they could assess the scale and seriousness of the event, their personal safety and the safety of people in their community. In these crisis situations we look to the media to provide accurate and verified information on which we can rely.

[64]  This was a developing story and the existence of the livestream video was a relatively new development in the events of the day. In these circumstances, we consider the presenter’s warning at the beginning of the programme was sufficiently specific, particularly given the signposting of the attack throughout the afternoon, the specific mentions of the footage prior to the programme and the lack of explicit or graphic violent content contained in the video.

[65]  We therefore consider TVNZ took effective steps to inform audiences about the nature of the programme, which mitigated the potential for harm. Taking into account these steps, and the contextual factors we have discussed above, we consider the broadcast was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards, at a level justifying our intervention.

[66]  We therefore do not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Violence

[67]  The key question for us to consider under the violence standard is whether TVNZ exercised an appropriate level of care and discretion in its decision to broadcast this clip, which featured implied violence and violent themes, and whether this was justified by the context.29

[68]  The violence standard recognises that, in news, current affairs and factual programming, disturbing or alarming material is often shown to reflect a world in which violence occurs.30 This material, however, must be justified in the public interest. Broadcasters must use judgement and discretion to determine the degree of graphic detail to be included and audience advisories should be used where appropriate.31

[69]  Guidance published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Terrorism and the Media: A Handbook for Journalists states:32 

Covering terrorist violence also requires keeping a sense of proportion. Reason must be the rule, in the volume of the journalistic coverage – too much information can cause just as much anxiety as too little information – in its “sound level” and in its portrayal of violence.

…The media practically go on auto-pilot, almost automatically contributing to the amplification of the terrorist impact, and even its exaggeration. They must be aware of this, and constantly assess their treatment of information to re-establish a sense of restraint and balance if necessary.

[70]  The guidance further notes that images are at the core of terrorist acts, with social media networks in particular providing new ways for terrorist groups to disseminate their messages or stage their violent actions.33 The critical issue for broadcast media is knowing how to ‘..strike a balance between [the] duty to inform the public… and the need to avoid being used as a vehicle for hateful, ultraviolent propaganda’.34

[71]  In the immediate aftermath of the attack, it was important for TVNZ to exercise an appropriate level of care and discretion in its coverage. TVNZ needed to report at a level proportionate to the high level of public interest, while also ensuring reporting did not ‘amplify the terrorist impact’ or contribute to a harmful cumulative effect of the violent themes reported on the day. Additionally, it was important that images of violence or potential glorification of violence were appropriately signposted and viewers given sufficient warning and time to change the channel, to look away or to protect any children in their care.

[72]  In its submissions, TVNZ explained the careful consideration, filtering and editing of information that it held over the day. We consider TVNZ exercised the appropriate level of care and discretion in its selection of this clip and in the way it was broadcast. The very brief clip was broadcast only twice over the hour and did not contain explicit violent content. We agree that the implications of the clip were disturbing, reflecting the atrocity that had occurred, and could have been distressing for audiences. However an audience advisory, immediately preceding each broadcast of the clip, was sufficiently specific to alert viewers to the potential for distressing content.

[73]  For the reasons we have outlined above, we further consider that the broadcast of the clip was justified in the public interest, particularly given the unprecedented nature of the attack in New Zealand. While the broadcast had the potential to add to the cumulative reporting of an act of extreme violence, it aired on the day of the attack, when viewers were still learning about the events and seeking out authoritative information about what had occurred.

[74]  Finally, we consider that the full livestream video was content likely to incite or encourage violence or brutality under guideline 4c. OFLC found that the full video ‘promotes and supports the infliction of extreme violence and cruelty’ and was ‘clearly intended to record, share and glorify the acts of extreme violence and cruelty…’35  However, we have found that TVNZ exercised the appropriate level of caution in the broadcast of part of this content, taking into account the below factors:

  • The clip was a very brief excerpt taken from the full video and had been carefully chosen and edited.
  • The content of the clip was newsworthy. It provided viewers with information about the serious nature of the attacks and the preparation of the alleged attacker, and was relevant to issues of national security.
  • While the implications were disturbing, the clip did not show any acts of violence, or other explicit or graphic content.
  • Further, the clip did not show the alleged attacker’s face or promote the violent messages contained in the full livestream video.
  • Specific warnings were provided prior to the broadcast of each clip. Extensive signposting and visual cues were also provided over the afternoon, alerting viewers to the potentially disturbing nature of the broadcast.
  • Finally, TVNZ had a duty to provide viewers with information about the attacks, making challenging editorial decisions in unprecedented circumstances. It exercised judgement and discretion in deciding the degree of graphic detail to be included in the programme, and broadcast appropriate audience advisories.

[75]  For the reasons outlined above, we therefore do not uphold the complaint under the violence standard.

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             NT’s formal complaint – 15 March 2019

2             TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 12 April 2019

3             NT’s referral to the Authority – 15 May 2019

4             TVNZ’s response to the referral – 7 June 2019

5             NT’s further comments – 14 June 2019

6             TVNZ’s further comments – 17 June 2019

7             OFLC’s comments regarding consultation with TVNZ – 19 June 2019


1 Christchurch shooting video officially objectionable, Media Release, Office of Film and Literature Classification, 20 March 2019. The full classification decision is available here (please be advised some of the content discussed could be distressing for the reader). In a decision dated 14 June 2019, the Film and Literature Board of Review also determined that the video ought to be deemed objectionable (decision available here).

2 Guidance from the Chief Censor, Media Release as above, 20 March 2019

3 As above, Media Release, 20 March 2019

4 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12

5 Guideline 1b

6 Guideline 1c

7 Guideline 4d

8 Guideline 4b

9 Guideline 4c

10 Morton and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2017-004 at [8]

11 Guideline 1a

12 Guideline 1b

13 Guideline 1c

14 See: https://twitter.com/nzpolice/status/1106402006183219203?lang=en

15 Four in custody over Christchurch mosque shootings as police boss reveals explosive devices found on cars (TVNZ, 15 March 2019)

16 Watch: Christchurch mosque shooting police press conferences (RNZ, 15 March 2019)

17 BBC Editorial Guidelines: General Acceptability of Strong and Violent Images (now incorporated into new Guidelines available at www.bbc.com/editorialguidelines).

18 HC Auckland CIV-2004-404-3536 at [82]

19 Christchurch attacks provide a new ethics lesson for professional media (The Conversation, 20 March 2019)

20 See Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, Issue 245, 6 January 2014 at page 19

21 See Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, Issue 245, 6 January 2014 at pages 49-50

22 See: Ofcom clears news coverage of Lee Rigby murder (BBC News, 6 January 2014) and Ofcom Bulletin above, page 49

23 Guideline 1b

24 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12

25 Guideline 1c

26 Guideline1c

27 Christchurch attacks provide a new ethics lesson for professional media (The Conversation, 20 March 2019)

28 As above

29 Guideline 4a

30 Guideline 4d

31 As above

32 Jean-Paul Mathoz, UNESCO 2017, at page 49

33 As above, at page 60

34 Jean-Paul Mathoz, UNESCO 2017, at page 60

35 Christchurch shooting video officially objectionable, Media Release, Office of Film and Literature Classification, 20 March 2019. The full classification decision is available here (please be advised some of the content discussed could be distressing for the reader).