BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Stranaghan and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2017-033 (17 July 2017)

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
  • Edwin Stranaghan


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

A short news item during Breakfast reported that the body of a German hostage, who had been beheaded by militants in the Philippines, had been recovered. The Authority did not uphold a complaint alleging that the item depicted a ‘severed head’, which was offensive and unacceptable to broadcast, especially during a time when children were likely to be watching television. In the context of a very brief news report, the item would not have exceeded audience expectations and would not have unduly offended or disturbed viewers. The content shown was not graphic or at a level which required a warning to be given, and the story carried public interest. While the news item was broadcast at a time when children were likely to be watching television, Breakfast is an unclassified morning news and current affairs programme, it is not targeted at child viewers and there is an expectation of adult supervision during this type of programming.

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


[1]  A short news item during Breakfast reported that the body of a German hostage, who was beheaded by militants in the Philippines, had been recovered. The item featured a photo of the hostage kneeling while holding a German flag and surrounded by militants, and brief footage of what appeared to be the hostage’s body in a body bag, in a morgue.

[2]  Edwin Stranaghan complained that the item depicted a ‘severed head’, which was unacceptable to broadcast, especially during a time when children were likely to be watching television.

[3]  The issue raised in Mr Stranaghan’s complaint is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item was broadcast at approximately 7am on 6 March 2017 on TVNZ 1. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Overview of findings and freedom of expression

[5]  The right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, is the starting point in our consideration of complaints. We may only uphold a complaint where to do so would place a limitation on the right to freedom of expression that is reasonable and justified in a free and democratic society.1

[6]  The news item in question was in the public interest and had value in terms of freedom of expression, as it informed viewers about recent international events that affected the safety of foreign tourists. Our task is to weigh this value against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. Here, the complainant has alleged that the item included graphic footage that would offend and disturb viewers, in particular children.

[7]  For the reasons set out below, we do not consider the footage would have exceeded audience expectations of a breakfast news item, or caused undue offence or distress. Therefore, any limitation on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression and the audience’s right to receive the information broadcast, is not in our view justified in this case.

Did the news item breach broadcasting standards?

[8]  Mr Stranaghan’s complaint raises similar issues under the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards. As the same contextual factors and other considerations are relevant to our assessment of each of these three standards, we have addressed them together.

[9]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Broadcasters should take effective steps to inform audiences of the nature of the programme, and enable viewers to regulate their own and their children’s viewing behaviour.2

[10]  The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) states that broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. Broadcasters should also exercise care and discretion when portraying violence, and ensure that any violent content is appropriate to the context of the programme and classified carefully (Standard 4).

The parties’ submissions

[11]  Mr Stranaghan submitted:

  • Showing a severed head on a table was offensive and ‘too graphic even for an adult audience’.
  • While Breakfast may be aimed at an adult audience, it is broadcast at a time when many children could be watching television as they are getting ready for school. The decisions relied upon by TVNZ in support of its submissions related to evening news bulletins, while Breakfast was broadcast in a different timeslot when there was likely to be less parental supervision.

[12]  TVNZ submitted:

  • It was in the public interest to report the kidnapping and murder of a tourist. The item did not contain any footage of the hostage after he had been beheaded; the photograph in the item showed the hostage alive, holding a cardboard German flag with German words written on it.
  • Breakfast is aimed at an adult audience and children are unlikely to watch the news unsupervised, as news programmes are expected to contain material that may be unsuitable for them.
  • The footage shown in the Breakfast bulletin was consistent with the expectations of a news and current affairs programme screening at that time of day. The introduction to the story clearly outlined the nature of the incident being discussed before any images were shown, so parents could exercise discretion if they wished.

Our analysis

[13]  When we consider a complaint under the nominated standards, we take into account the context of the broadcast. Relevant contextual factors in this case include:

  • the nature of the Breakfast programme, an unclassified breakfast programme containing a mixture of news, current affairs, sport, and other magazine/lifestyle components
  • the time of broadcast at approximately 7am, during children’s normally accepted viewing times
  • the length of the item, approximately 20 seconds in total
  • the item was not preceded by a warning
  • the target, and likely, audience
  • audience expectations of Breakfast, and of morning news bulletins.

[14]  We have viewed the item subject to complaint a number of times, and we are satisfied that the item did not depict a severed head, as submitted by the complainant. Rather, as TVNZ has explained, the item contained a photograph of the hostage kneeling on the ground, holding a cardboard German flag in front of him (the top of the flag was held underneath his chin, and his hands were partially visible holding the sides of the flag). The hostage was surrounded by militants, and he was alive in this image. Later in the item, footage from what appeared to be a morgue was shown. This footage also did not include images of a severed head, but showed what appeared to be the hostage’s body in a body bag, so as to be unidentifiable.

[15]  The item as a whole was brief, totalling about 20 seconds in length, and it did not depict any graphic or violent content. The footage of what appeared to be the hostage’s covered dead body was fleeting, and it was not obvious what was being shown, which in our view lessened the potential for viewers to be disturbed. We note that the item’s introduction, which referred to the beheading of a hostage, indicated the type of material that was to follow and went some way to informing viewers about the nature of the item. In this context, we do not consider the item would have been outside audience expectations of a breakfast news bulletin or that it would have unduly offended or disturbed adult viewers.

[16]  We acknowledge the complainant’s concerns regarding child viewers. While Breakfast may have an adult target audience, the time of broadcast before school means that children may form part of the likely audience. We accept that children may find the subject matter of the item distressing, despite the absence of graphic or violent imagery. However, there is an expectation of adult supervision during unclassified news programmes, which often contain challenging content. We also note that Breakfast is unlikely to appeal to many child viewers.

[17]  Overall we do not think that the content of the item went beyond what was acceptable for broadcast in this breakfast timeslot, and we agree with the broadcaster that the news story carried public interest. The only other question is whether the content of this particular broadcast necessitated an explicit warning to be given prior to the item. While we believe the item came close to requiring a warning given its subject matter, taking into account the contextual factors listed above, including the item’s brevity and the omission of any graphic or violent details, we have concluded that in this case a warning was not necessary.

[18]  For these reasons, we do not find a breach of Standards 1, 3 or 4.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority



Peter Radich
17 July 2017 



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

1      Edwin Stranaghan’s formal complaint – 7 and 21 March 2017
2      TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 20 April 2017
3      Mr Stranaghan’s referral to the Authority – 26 April 2017
4      TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 26 May 2017
5      Mr Stranaghan’s final comments – 12 June 2017

1 See sections 5 and 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and Introduction: Freedom of Expression, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6.

2 Guideline 1b to Standard 1 – Good Taste and Decency