ADJUDICATION NO: 51/A /2012
NAME OF PROGRAMME: SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT, 21h58 ON 2.10.2012
BROADCASTER: SABC 3
COMPLAINANT: TANYA BOSHOFF
ADJUDICATOR: BCCSA ADJUDICATOR
Complaint that promo showed the method how to smoke Tik at a time when children could still have formed part of the audience.
Clause 6(1) of Free-to-Air Broadcasting Code of Conduct:
Broadcasting service licensees must not broadcast material which is harmful or disturbing to children at times when a large number of children are likely to be part of the audience.
 The complaint refers to a promo for a Special Assignment episode that was broadcast on 2 October 2012 at 21h58. The complainant contends that an explicit scene shows exactly how to smoke Tik. The complaint reads as follows.“Promo showing how a woman abuses the drug Tik. Visually shows the woman (supposedly a mother) putting the drug, Tik, into the pipe, lighting it, and smokingit. No warning was given of the nature of this promo prior to the promo being shown. People are not able to decide whether they want to see how this drug is abused by watching the “Special Assignment” show. People already see the sensitive content of the show promoted without any warning. Most teenagers are still awake after watching the TV show “The Good Wife” and would have caught the promo straight after the show. Previous addicts could also be watching TV and would not want to be reminded of this. This promo is so graphic that someone who does not know how this drug is abused suddenly is taught how to abuse it. Not everybody wants to see the show, but now everybody is subject to the sensitive content of the show unexpectedly. Surely this content can be kept for when the show is aired after warning of its content. I assume the reason for the show is: 1. awareness to try and combat the Tik addiction in the Cape flats; and 2. awareness of an increase in Tik babies due to addicted mothers, but airing such content in an promo defeats the object. This promo is harmful to the general public and in my opinion must be amended to not show such harmful content.”
The broadcaster responded as follows: “The promo for Special Assignment was broadcast well into the watershed period at 22:00. The promo displayed the episode’s advisory of PG13. We submit that there has been no contravention of the BCCSA Code.” I watched the promo and understand the complainant’s concern about the scene showing the direct use of Tik. However, it must be borne in mind that Special Assignment is a current affairs investigative documentary series, with the aim to uncover the truth about news events and the people involved in them. The promo in question can be described as cautionary since it is quite clear that it relates to a film intended for adult audiences which will be broadcast after the start of the watershed. It is also clear that the destructive effects of drug abuse will be addressed in the programme and that people who use Tik need to carefully consider their behaviour and the consequences of their actions. Typical of the genre of television advertising, the scene is also very fleeting of nature. The Code of Conduct specifies that promotional material which contains explicit scenes intended for adult audiences must not be broadcast before the watershed period. In this case the promo was broadcast after the watershed and the programme’s advisory of PG13 was displayed.
The issue of drug abuse is of great importance and concern to our nation, and part of the educative and informative task of the SABC is to reflect reality accurately and to raise awareness about destructive behaviour. However, as long as such behaviour is not presented as the norm, or approved of, it may serve an educational purpose. In the case of the scene under discussion, the promo makes it clear that the behaviour of the character is definitely not approved of and the use of drugs is not glamorised, condoned or encouraged. The complainant raises the concern that many teenagers could still have been in the audience after watching “The Good Wife”. It is possible, but in today’s world, it becomes more and more difficult to shield teenagers (and younger children) from the social ills of society and it serves no purpose to turn a blind eye on reality. One of the aims of current affairs programmes is to open the eyes of viewers to the dangers of life, a task which is not always sufficiently addressed by parents with regard to their children. The media provide a context for interpreting the world around us. This is one of the consequences of living in a media-saturated society and also the reason why content advisories are provided. In this case, if children under the age of 13 were exposed to the promo accidentally, hopefully they would not have understood the scene for what it was, which would reduce the possibility of imitation.
The legal test in determining whether material is permissible or not, is based on whether the reasonable viewer, who is broadminded, balanced and not overly sensitive, would allow the material to be available to other viewers even if he or she would not choose to be exposed to it. The contemporary South African level of tolerance is thus taken into account, as well as the contemporary mores of society. The test is not whether the BCCSA would regard material as appropriate or not, the question is whether the broadcaster has exceeded the limits of its freedom of expression. In this case the promo may seem risqué, but is not sufficiently over the edge to be in breach of the Broadcasting Code. In case children or teenagers were exposed to it, it might even have provided an opportunity for parents to discuss the consequences of drug abuse with them. The complainant mentions that “previous addicts could also be watching TV and would not want to be reminded of this”.
Cases where a complaint is lodged on behalf of other people are difficult to judge since it is unknown what these people’s reaction might have been or whether they are even aware of the broadcast. It would be presumptuous for the BCCSA to come to a decision without hearing their personal views. Broadcasters should nonetheless bear in mind that children and teenagers may form part of the audience at any time and exposure to promos are effectively impossible to control because there is no schedule available for when they are shown. Although the scene in question is fleeting, it was nevertheless quite clear. The broadcaster is urged to be extremely careful in the choice of clips that are used in promos and in the choice of timeslots for promos carrying disturbing material of any nature. In the result, no contravention of the Code could be found and the complaint is not upheld.