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BSA releases litmus testing research on public attitudes towards violence on TV/Radio

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has today released its annual litmus testing research which explores the public’s attitudes towards violence on TV/Radio and views on BSA’s recent decisions on complaints relating to violence in broadcast content.

Key findings from the research include:

  • An average of 85% of participants agreed with the four BSA decisions tested.
  • There is a lower tolerance for violence in programming where a power differential exists (eg violence against women and children), where graphic or explicit violence is shown (eg close ups or unnecessary detail, violence glorified or used as ‘shock value’) and where violence with destructive emotional intent is depicted (eg racism, sadism, torture, random or anti-social actions).
  • There is a higher tolerance for fictionalised violence, violence in a ‘controlled’ environment (eg sports) or violence serving educational purposes (eg public interest learnings, highlighting of issues).
  • There is moderate tolerance for real-life violence. Some participants indicated that ‘real’ violence is more confronting and some suggested that it provides learnings about society.
  • Use of tools, such as the electronic programming guide, classifications, warnings, parental locks and timebands provided through the broadcasting standards system to manage content in the home, has increased slightly but remains low.

BSA Chief Executive, Belinda Moffat said, ‘The research reflects that public acceptability of violence on screen or radio is highly dependent on context. While care must always be taken in the depiction of graphic violence, the research suggests that the public’s attitude to violence is influenced by its nature, whether it is real or fictional and the purpose or benefit of its depiction. It is clear that violence can be confronting, and care must be taken by broadcasters in depicting it. The challenging programming decisions for broadcasters are highlighted by the mixed views about ‘real-life’ violence, with some audiences finding it more confronting and others citing its educational value.’

The BSA will continue its focus on supporting increased media literacy, and use of classifications, warnings and parental locks so that New Zealanders can navigate the complex content world without harm.

The full research report is available at: Litmus Testing 2020


For more information contact Raina Ng on 021 623 794.



The decisions which were subject to litmus testing were:

Decision Tested

% rated the decision as acceptable/good/ very good

Starboy (2017-016) – 9:00-10:00pm (16C)

Music video by The Weeknd depicting the singer tied to a chair and being suffocated

Complaint not upheld


DailyMail TV (2018-092) – 3:30pm (PGR)

Item about a murder, pixilation, no warning

Complaint upheld under good taste and decency and children’s interests standards


MMA (Mixed Martial Arts): One Championship Weekly (2017-057) – 8:30am (Saturday)

Highlights of fight show

Complaint not upheld


Checkpoint  (2017-032) – 5:30pm

Radio item reporting on kidnapping/assault trial, including recording of evidence of victim. No warning.

Complaint upheld under good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards





The BSA is an independent Crown entity that oversees the broadcasting standards regime in New Zealand. The BSA determines complaints that broadcasts have breached standards, undertakes research and oversees the development of broadcasting standards in consultation with broadcasters.

The Authority members are Judge Bill Hastings (Chair), Paula Rose QSO and Susie Staley MNZM. The Chief Executive is Belinda Moffat.

For more information see our website: