BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

O'Neill and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-038

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Tapu Misa
  • Aaron O'Neill
One News

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item on the death of a Georgian luger at the Winter Olympics – included footage of the crash that killed the athlete and a still shot of him being attended to by paramedics – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – broadcaster handled the crash with adequate care and sensitivity – still shot of paramedic giving CPR to the bloodied athlete on the borderline of acceptability – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on Saturday 13 February 2010, reported on the death of a Georgian luger during a practice run at the Winter Olympic Games in Canada.

[2]   The presenter introduced the item by saying:

The Winter Olympics have opened with the horrific death of an athlete during training. A Georgian luge rider was killed when he flew off the Vancouver course despite the organisers being repeatedly warned it was unsafe.

We need to warn you, this report by David Muir of America’s ABC does contain footage of the accident and its aftermath which you may find disturbing.

[3]   Footage was shown of the male athlete speeding down the course at over 100 kilometres an hour. As the man sped down the track and reached the final bend, he hit a wall, flew over the barrier and struck a metal pole stopping him instantly. A computer-generated re-enactment of the crash was also included.

[4]   A still shot was shown of emergency workers performing CPR on the man. As a voice talked about the efforts to save the athlete, the camera zoomed in on the still shot showing the paramedic’s hands covering the athlete’s face as he tried to revive him. While some blood was visible on the paramedic’s hand and part of the athlete’s face, a full view of the athlete was obscured by the emergency workers crowded around him.

[5]   The report also included two other still shots of the luger flying through the air and about to hit the pole.


[6]   Aaron O’Neill made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards of good taste and decency. He argued that the footage showing “the moment of impact” and the “bloodied shot of the paramedics performing CPR on the athlete” were unnecessarily graphic.


[7]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 and guidelines 1a and 1b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.


1a Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency bearing in mind the context in which any content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. programme classification, target audience, type of programme and use of warnings etc.

1b The use of visual and verbal warnings should be considered when content is likely to disturb or offend a significant number of viewers except in the case of news and current affairs, where verbal warnings only will be considered. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8]   TVNZ stated that One News was aimed at an adult target audience and that the editorial decision to include the footage had not been taken lightly.

[9]   Referring to previous coverage of Ayrton Senna’s death during a Formula One crash and Denny Hulme’s fatal car crash in Australia, the broadcaster noted that this was “not the first time One News has shown a sports star die in a live event”. It also noted that the incident had been covered extensively by the world’s media.

[10]   The broadcaster argued that the verbal warning issued by the presenter gave viewers a sufficient appreciation of the item’s content and that neither the footage of the crash nor the still shot of the paramedics performing CPR was “screened gratuitously”.

[11]   TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1.

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr O’Neill referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[13]   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.

[14]   When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • One News was an unclassified news programme
  • the programme was broadcast at 6pm and was broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times
  • One News had an adult target audience
  • the expectations of regular viewers
  • the item was preceded by a verbal warning.

[15]   At the outset, we note that the Authority determined a similar complaint about a 3 News item that covered the same incident.1 In that decision, we declined to uphold the complaint about the footage of the crash because the item covered a legitimate and newsworthy story, especially when considering that concerns had been raised about the safety of the track prior to the accident. We also noted that, by their very nature, news programmes cover stories and show footage that some viewers might find disturbing and offensive. We concluded that the footage shown of the crash was acceptable when taken in the context of a news programme targeted at adults and which was preceded by a clear warning.

[16]   With respect to the footage of the crash itself, we find no reason to depart from our reasoning in the previous decision.

[17]   However, one of the reasons we gave in the previous decision for declining to uphold the complaint was that, “The footage was taken from a respectful distance and no close-up shots were shown of the man directly after the accident or as he was being worked on by emergency crews before being taken away in an ambulance”. We note that the One News item showed a still shot of emergency workers performing CPR on the man and that the camera zoomed in on the still shot showing the paramedic’s hands covering the athlete’s bloodied face as he tried to revive him.

[18]   In our view, the still shot was on the borderline of acceptability for a news programme broadcast at 6pm. However, while it increased the distressing nature of the item, we note that the still shot was shown only briefly and the athlete’s face and body were largely obscured by emergency workers.

[19]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
1 June 2010


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

1.          Aaron O’Neill’s formal complaint – 14 February 2010

2.          TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 8 March 2010

3.          Mr O’Neill’s referral to the Authority – 10 March 2010

4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 14 April 2010

1Bowie and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2010-023.