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Incorrectly classified wildlife programme exposed children to potential harm

A scene in a ‘G’-rated wildlife documentary, in which a female dolphin was pursued, trapped and mated with by a group of male dolphins, exposed children watching to potential harm, the BSA has found.

The Authority has upheld a viewer’s complaint that an episode of Our Big Blue Backyard broadcast on TVNZ 1 at 7.30pm on 31 January 2023 breached the children’s interests standard.1

The standard was breached on the basis the episode should have been rated ‘PG’ (Parental Guidance), to signpost to parents or caregivers that supervision was recommended for younger viewers, it found.

The BSA determined the scene went beyond audience expectations of the programme’s ‘G’ rating (General: Approved for general viewing) as it featured mature themes, graphic images, and tense dramatisation through sinister music, language and audio of dolphin cries (which could have been interpreted as the distressed cries of the female). These factors in combination meant the scene may have been alarming or distressing for children watching.

In upholding the complaint, the Authority underlined that it was not suggesting the programme should not have been aired, or that it should have been aired at a different time. “Our view is simply that it should have had a different classification to better inform audiences in making their viewing choices and exercising discretion,” the Authority said.

It acknowledged TVNZ’s submission that wildlife documentaries inherently include confronting animal behaviour such as hunting, conflict, and mating – and this should not be judged through a lens of human social norms. However, in light of contextual factors, it found the content may have been harmful for younger viewers.

“Even though earlier scenes signposted the topic of the dolphins’ mating and breeding challenges, the particular content and dramatic impact of the final scene were unexpected in our view and there was no pre-warning it may be distressing for younger viewers,” the BSA said.

The BSA’s Children’s Media Use research has identified animal harm or torture as one of the most common types of content that children find upsetting.

Further information on programme classifications and timebands can be seen here.


1The children’s interests standard requires broadcasters to ensure children under 14 can be protected from content that might adversely affect them. It generally applies during children’s normally accepted viewing times, usually up to 8.30pm.


The full decision can be seen on the BSA website here.


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

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