Dated: 18 August 2005
Decision No:   2005-060

Complainant
PAULA PANASIUK
of Christchurch

Broadcaster
TELEVISION NEW ZEALAND LTD


Members
Joanne Morris, Chair
Tapu Misa
Diane Musgrave
Paul France

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

Eating Media Lunch – presenter removed a cat from a microwave oven and said “probably need a couple more minutes, don’t you?” – placed the cat back in the microwave – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and inconsistent with the maintenance of law and order

Findings

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld
Standard 2 (law and order) – not inconsistent with the maintenance of law and order – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.

Broadcast

[1] At the conclusion of an episode of Eating Media Lunch at around 10.30pm on TV2 on 19 April 2005, the presenter was seen to remove a cat from a microwave oven. He held the cat up to his face and said “probably need a couple more minutes, don’t you?”, and then placed the cat back in the oven.

[2] The programme was preceded by the following warning which was delivered both visually and verbally:

This edition of Eating Media Lunch on TV2 is rated adults only and recommended for a mature audience. It contains material and language that may offend some people.

Complaint

[3] Paula Panasiuk complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that pretending to cook a cat in a microwave oven was an appalling display of ignorance by an influential television presenter. She expressed concern that less intelligent people might mimic the animal cruelty portrayed in the item.

[4] Noting that she did not see any humour in the stunt, Miss Panasiuk stated that she had passed her concerns to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

[5] Further to a letter from TVNZ, Miss Panasiuk specified that she believed Standards 1 and 2 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice were breached in the item. With respect to Standard 1 (good taste and decency), the complainant alleged that the visual and verbal warning at the beginning of the programme was inadequate and not specific in nature. Miss Panasiuk observed that classifying a programme as “satire” did not justify depicting animal cruelty.

[6] Referring to Standard 2 (law and order), Miss Panasiuk contended that the broadcast had not respected the principles of law by depicting animal cruelty. Noting Guidelines 2c and 2d, she submitted that the broadcast had depicted techniques of crime in a manner which invited imitation. Further, the complainant believed that the depicted ingenious device for inflicting pain, injury or death was readily capable of easy imitation and should not have been shown.

Standards

[7] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 2 and Guidelines 1a, 2a, 2c and 2d of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Guideline 1a

Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification. The examples are not exhaustive.

Standard 2 Law and Order

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.

Guidelines

2a Broadcasters must respect the principles of law which sustain our society.

2c Programmes should not depict or describe techniques of crime in a manner which invites imitation.

2d Ingenious devices for, and unfamiliar methods of, inflicting pain, injury or death, particularly if readily capable of easy imitation, should not be shown, except in exceptional circumstances which are in the public interest.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8] In its response to the complainant, TVNZ noted that the context of satire had always allowed people to stand back and find humour in the most appalling of human activities. Cruelty to animals had been the subject of satire in previous episodes of Eating Media Lunch, it noted.

[9] In the broadcaster’s view, an animal in a microwave was almost stereotypical of examples of animal cruelty and was hardly a new idea. TVNZ contended that anyone with cruelty of this nature on their minds was unlikely to be influenced one way or another by a short skit at the end of a satirical half-hour. Further, it believed that the stunt was transparently a joke and no harm was done to the cat. TVNZ added:

With respect, the [complaints] committee observed that if television was to stop broadcasting anything which might give certain deranged individuals ideas which they otherwise might not have for themselves, it would have very few programmes to broadcast at all.

[10] With regard to Standard 1, TVNZ found no breach of the current norms of good taste and decency in the context of a satirical skit, broadcast late at night with an AO classification. It contended that a satirical sketch was different to reporting actual animal cruelty.

[11] Turning to Standard 2, TVNZ did not believe the item was “inconsistent with the maintenance of law and order” or that it represented a lack of respect for “the principles of law which sustain our society”. It argued that satire was an important component of the concept of freedom of expression, a fundamental principle which supported New Zealand’s democratic way of life.

[12] Referring to Guidelines 2c and 2d, the broadcaster noted that placing animals in microwaves was not an unfamiliar method of inflicting pain. If it was, TVNZ said, the sketch would have made no sense. TVNZ did not believe that the item was presented in a manner which invited imitation, and concluded that Standard 2 was not breached.

Referral to the Authority

[13] Expressing her dissatisfaction with the broadcaster’s response, Miss Panasiuk referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She maintained that Standards 1 and 2 had been breached, and asked the Authority to review TVNZ’s decision. Miss Panasiuk felt that TVNZ thought it could broadcast anything as long as it was labelled “satire”, no matter how offensive or unlawful it was.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14] TVNZ observed that rather than being “labelled” as satire, the programme was in fact satire. The broadcaster declined to make any further comments.          

Authority's Determination

[15] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[16] When the Authority considers a complaint which alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, relevant contextual factors include:

[17] The Authority notes the complainant’s view that the warning was inadequate and not specific in nature. In light of the other contextual factors above, it is the Authority’s view that the warning was sufficient in all the circumstances.

[18] Further, the Authority agrees with TVNZ that the stunt was transparently a joke, and that the animal was obviously not harmed. The Authority concludes that the broadcast did not breach Standard 1.

[19] The Authority notes that the complainant has specifically referred to Guidelines 2c and 2d in her complaint about a breach of Standard 2 (law and order). The Authority agrees with TVNZ that, regrettably, placing animals in microwaves is not an unfamiliar method of animal cruelty. Further, the Authority notes that viewers were in no way encouraged or invited to replicate the presenter’s actions. Accordingly, the Authority concludes that there was no breach of Standard 2 on this occasion.

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

Joanne Morris
Chair

18 August 2005


Appendix

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

  1. Paula Panasiuk’s formal complaint – 21 April 2005 and 5 May 2005
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 16 May 2005
  3. Miss Panasiuk’s referral to the Authority – 8 June 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 16 June 2005