BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Warwick and TVWorks Ltd - 2013-089

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Elizabeth Warwick
3 News
TVWorks Ltd
TV3 # 3

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

An item on 3 News which reported on a shooting massacre in a Kenyan Mall included footage of a man trying to hide, and then being shot at point blank range. The newsreader warned that the story contained ‘disturbing images’. The Authority upheld the complaint that this warning was inadequate to prepare viewers for witnessing a horrific execution. While recognising the very high public interest in the story and in the footage, viewers were not given a reasonable opportunity to exercise discretion or make a different viewing choice. The Authority did not make any order, as the decision provides sufficient guidance to broadcasters.

Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests, Violence

No Order


[1]  An item on 3 News which reported on a shooting massacre in a Kenyan Mall included footage of a man trying to hide, and then being shot at point blank range. The item was broadcast on TV3 on 18 October 2013.

[2]  Elizabeth Warwick made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd alleging that the footage of the man being killed did not need to be shown in the report and was inappropriate to air, especially when inadequate warning was given of the graphic content contained in the item.

[3]  The issue 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 members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the item breach broadcasting standards?

[5]  When we consider complaints about good taste and decency, children’s interests, and violence, context is all important, including the programme’s classification, the time of broadcast, the target audience, and the warnings used (if any). Because the same considerations and contextual factors apply, we have assessed Standards 1, 9 and 10 together.

[6]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 The Authority will also consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.2 The children’s interests standard (Standard 9) requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm. The objective of the standard is to protect children from unsuitable material which might adversely affect them. The violence standard (Standard 10) states that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

[7]  Ms Warwick alleged that the broadcaster failed to exercise caution by showing the footage of a man being killed, and was of the view that other footage of people fleeing the mall was enough to indicate the seriousness of the event. She argued that there was not enough time or warning given to allow viewers an opportunity to exercise discretion or make another viewing choice.

[8]  TVWorks maintained that the use of the footage was necessary to properly communicate the seriousness of the massacre and the callousness of the gunmen, and was aired on media outlets all over the world. It noted that the footage screened during an unclassified news programme that was unlikely to be watched by unsupervised children, and it considered that the warning was sufficient to enable viewers to ‘make an alternative viewing choice’.

[9]  Guideline 10d to the violence standard recognises that disturbing and alarming material is often shown in news programmes, to reflect a world in which violence occurs. There was very high public interest in this report, and high value in terms of free speech. We should not be shielded from such events, which unfortunately do take place.

[10]  Nevertheless, the standards require that viewers are adequately warned of potentially disturbing, alarming or graphic content. The approach the Authority takes is to require broadcasters to provide sufficient information to enable viewers to regulate their own, and their children’s, viewing behaviour.3

[11]  While recognising the importance of the item, we find that the warning given in this instance was insufficient to prepare viewers for the graphic execution they were about to see. The item was introduced as follows:

Dramatic new pictures have emerged of the attack on a Kenyan mall in which Kiwi [name] was injured and 67 people died. A warning: [reporter’s] story contains disturbing images that were recorded by closed circuit TV cameras installed in the mall.

[12]  In our view, ‘disturbing images’ captured the scenes of people running through the mall and away from the gunmen. It did not, however, adequately prepare them to see a man attempting to hide, then being discovered by one of the gunmen and shot in cold blood, at close range. The accompanying dialogue described this unfolding: ‘One man tries to hide. Seconds later, a gunman strolls in. Without any hesitation, he fires.’ The warning, in our view, needed to be more specific and convey to viewers that they would be witnessing a graphic killing – particularly as this was shown in the 6pm news and not during late night news, so the need for a warning was greater to assist parental supervision.

[13]  While we did not explicitly see the man being shot (as his head and part of his body were hidden behind a counter), or any blood or wounds, viewers did see his legs and body convulse as the bullet hit. This was horrific, highly disturbing content, and we think that many viewers would have been very upset given they were not prepared for it.

[14]  Further, the footage was shown only 30 seconds into the item. The inadequate warning, combined with the proximity of the warning to the footage, meant that viewers were not given a reasonable opportunity to exercise discretion with regard to their children’s viewing, or to make a different viewing choice themselves.

[15]  We have weighed the importance of the item and of free speech, against the potential harm to viewers in terms of the objectives of the standards (see paragraph [6]), and have reached the view that upholding the complaint would be a reasonable and proportionate limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. We are not saying that the footage should not have been broadcast – we agree that it was important to illustrate the horror of the events. We are, however, saying that material of such a graphic nature must be adequately signposted for viewers, and for that reason we find that the broadcaster did not fulfil its obligations under the standards on this occasion.

[16]  We therefore uphold Ms Warwick’s complaint that the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards were breached.


For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by TVWorks Ltd of an item on 3 News on 18 October 2013 breached Standards 1, 9 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[17]  Having upheld the complaint, we may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. We do not intend to do so on this occasion. Our decision is sufficient to provide guidance to broadcasters around the need for explicit warnings before screening graphic, real-life violence during the news, and particularly the early evening news.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
1 April 2014


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

1                  Elizabeth Warwick’s formal complaint – 23 October 2013

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 14 November 2013

3                 Ms Warwick’s referral to the Authority – 3 December 2013

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 29 January 2014

1Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112

2Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)

3Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)