New Zealand Law Society - Research reveals public attitudes on broadcasting decisions

Research reveals public attitudes on broadcasting decisions

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The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has released new research on the public’s attitudes to BSA decisions on classifications and timebands on television.

The research, conducted by UMR Research for the BSA, involved 54 people from around New Zealand. Participants assessed five BSA decisions which considered classification and timeband issues under the standards for free-to-air and pay television.  

The decisions tested were about the crime drama Criminal Minds, the kids’ cartoon Grizzly Tales, footage of an assault on a store worker from ONE News, a promo for medical drama The Night Shift and a Nicki Minaj music video.  

The majority of participants agreed with the BSA’s decisions for all five programmes. Some participants considered the standards themselves were too lenient, even if they agreed the standards were correctly applied by the Authority.  

Themes which emerged from the research included:

  • In general, older participants tended to be more disturbed by overtly sexual material or offensive language than younger participants.
  • The depiction of graphic or prolonged violence during unclassified news programmes may not be appropriate for broadcast early in the evening.
  • Fleeting references to sexual content may be acceptable to broadcast during timeslots classified G (General).
  • There is an expectation of some degree of self-censorship by audiences.
  • Most parents claimed to take steps to restrict their children’s access to unsuitable content on television, such as violence, offensive language, horror and overtly sexual material. These steps included monitoring and restricting children’s viewing times, channels and content, and for some, use of parental locks and family safety technology.
  • Broadcasting standards give parents some measure of reassurance about the suitability or otherwise of programme content.

“This testing is vitally important to the BSA’s work, and is used by the Authority to gauge community attitudes and to assess whether BSA decisions align with public opinion,” says BSA Chief Executive, Belinda Moffat.

“The research outcomes will be taken into consideration by the Authority in its determination of future complaints from the public that standards of broadcasting practice have been breached.”  

Alongside the litmus testing research, the BSA also obtained an independent review of the same five BSA decisions by Linda Clark, Special Counsel at Kensington Swan, and former journalist and broadcaster.

Ms Clark concluded that the BSA’s decisions are generally legally robust, well-reasoned, readable and clear. The review proposed a series of modifications to BSA decisions including providing a more detailed discussion of how the right to freedom of expression applies to broadcasting standards, and greater reference to the Authority’s past decisions. The BSA will take into account the recommendations in its future work.

The full Litmus Testing report 2017 is available here and the full External Review report 2017 is available here.

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