TVNZ rapped for failure to warn of 'graphic' trial coverage

By Beck Vass

Clayton Weatherston
Clayton Weatherston

TVNZ has been reprimanded for failing to run warnings before the 6pm news when it screened graphic evidence during the Sophie Elliott murder trial.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority last night revealed it had upheld a complaint against the broadcaster for breaching industry standards that are in place to uphold good taste and decency.

Shona Thompson complained to TVNZ over its coverage of the trial, when footage was aired showing Ms Elliott's former Otago University tutor and boyfriend Clayton Weatherston giving evidence on July 13.

The footage showed Weatherston describing what happened when he stabbed 22-year-old Ms Elliott 216 times and mutilated her body in January last year. Weatherston said: "The most vivid recall I have next is of standing or kneeling over her with a pair of scissors in my right hand, and um, the scissors had gone through the front of her throat and I can feel a crunching sound, like it's against her spine."

In a response to Ms Thompson, before the matter was referred to the authority, TVNZ defended itself, saying it had an obligation to provide a fair and accurate portrayal of what was said in court. The decision to include such graphic evidence had not been made lightly.

"However, the broadcaster said that its news department acknowledged that throughout the reporting of Mr Weatherston's trial, verbal warnings prior to such footage could have been better utilised," the authority's report reads.

"It stated that its news staff had learned from the experience and that more robust processes had now been put into place to ensure warnings were used when appropriate."

The authority ruled that viewers would have not been prepared for such explicit detail and noted that Weatherston's testimony was "highly unusual given that he had admitted killing Ms Elliott, and was describing in detail the manner in which he had done so".

It acknowledged that upholding the complaint would place a "justified and reasonable" limit on TVNZ's freedom of expression but that it would ensure broadcasters used discretion when items contained explicit or potentially disturbing content.

TVNZ escaped financial penalty but will have to publicise the authority's decision.

- NZ Herald

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