BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Serfontein and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2022-039 (21 June 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
Dated
Complainant
  • Johann Serfontein
Number
2022-039
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint alleging footage during a Newshub Live at 6pm item showing a rugby league player throwing up on the side of the field during a match breached the good taste and decency standard. Taking into account the context of the broadcast, the Authority found the footage was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency


The broadcast

[1]  A Newshub Live at 6pm item broadcast on 20 March 2022 reported on a Warriors rugby league match from that day. The broadcast was approximately one minute long and included footage of a person throwing up on the side of the field, with the following commentary:

Staff will keep an eye on [player], who managed just 20 minutes before the prop was forced from the field with illness. [Coach] said [player] had tested negative prior to the match and didn't believe his condition was COVID related.

The complaint

[2]  Johann Serfontein complained the footage breached the good taste and decency standard for the following key reasons:

  • ‘[The broadcast] showed a Rugby League player puking next to the field in the middle of the newscast while a fair number of us were having our evening tea.’
  • This was ‘…extremely unnecessary and offensively disgusting’
  • ‘…broadcasting a vomiting person, without warning, during evening teatime to millions of kiwis cannot be considered decent, or in good taste.’

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  Discovery NZ Ltd did not uphold the complaint for the following key reasons:

  • ‘A brief shot of one player throwing up on the sideline, to explain him being taken off the field due to illness was shown.’
  • ‘The Broadcast did not contain any sexual material, graphic violence, coarse language or any other content that exceeded the boundaries of the Good Taste and Decency standard.’
  • ‘Television is a visual medium and the footage shown was central to the narrative of the Broadcast, reporting on a player having to leave the field very early in the game due to illness. We acknowledge that it may not have made for pleasant viewing but it was important to show exactly what had happened, considering the criticism the club came under for losing the game.’

The relevant standard

[4]  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

Our analysis

[5]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[6]  Our task is to weigh the value of the programme, in terms of the right to freedom of expression and the public interest, against the level of actual or potential harm caused. We may only intervene and uphold complaints where the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

[7]  Context is crucial in assessing complaints under the good taste and decency standard.3 In this case, we identified the following relevant contextual factors:

  • Newshub Live at 6pm is a current affairs programme aimed at an adult audience.
  • News and current affairs programmes are unlikely to be viewed by unsupervised young children.4
  • News items often involve challenging material which reflects the world we live in.5
  • The item was reporting on a loss by the Warriors rugby league team, which could be attributed in part to a player leaving the game early due to illness.
  • The broadcast speculated whether the player’s illness was related to COVID-19.
  • The footage of the player throwing up lasted approximately four seconds during an approximately one minute item.

[8]  In the context of a broadcast reporting on a loss by the Warriors, we consider the footage of a player throwing up was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards.6 The footage was broadcast during the original match and was notable as it was unusual for players to be physically ill on-field, and the player leaving the game due to illness may have contributed to the team losing. The item also included speculation as to whether the player was affected by COVID-19, which is a serious ongoing issue for athletes in New Zealand.7

[9]  This content is within audience expectations of the item, and news programmes more generally. 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.8

[10]  While we understand that the footage may have been unpleasant for some viewers, we do not consider any potential harm reached the threshold justifying regulatory intervention and a limitation of the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

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

 

Susie Staley
Chair
21 June 2022   

 

Appendix

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

1  Johann Serfontein’s formal complaint to Discovery – 20 March 2022

2  Discovery’s initial response to complaint – 11 April 2022

3  Serfontein’s referral to the Authority – 11 April 2022

4  Discovery’s confirmation of no further comments – 13 April 2022


1 Standard 1, Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
3 Guideline 1a
4 Francis and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-045 at [17] citing Lowry and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-051 at [9]; and Larsen and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2012-055
5 Maysmor and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2021-048 at [13] and Lewis and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2017-069 at [14]
6 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
7 See for example: “NZ's top swimmer hit by Covid ahead of world champs” RNZ (online ed, 17 May 2022); Merryn Anderson “Netballers, pass it on: Beware of Covid brain fog” Newsroom (online ed, 29 April 2022); Angela Walker “Long Covid tackles even the fittest athletes” Newsroom (online ed, 21 February 2022); Shea Turner “Covid-19: Athletes straining bodies by returning too quickly after infection” Stuff (online ed, 31 March 2022)
8 See Maysmor and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No 2021-048 at [15]