SABC2 and its popular soap 7de Laan have been found guilty of contravening the Broadcasting Code of Conduct due to the explicit portrayal of a disturbing and drawn-out attempted suicide.
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) has ruled that "the threatening actions of the character were indeed too repetitive and graphic for the timeslot" and that "the suicide helpline number screened afterwards was of little or no use to traumatised children, and that the 13V advisory was not sufficient".
SABC2 and 7de Laan were slammed by the BCCSA, with the tribunal finding that the broadcaster "crossed over the 'family content' line" at a time when large numbers of children can be expected to be a part of the audience. The complaints received were upheld by the BCCSA. SABC2 and 7de Laan were issued with a reprimand and the broadcaster cautioned to be even more careful with material that is broadcast during family time.
Applied media ethics dictates that suicides and attempted suicides get as little media exposure as possible, that reports about it are kept short and very basic, and that fictional accounts or portrayals not be "glamourised", overdramatised or be drawn-out.
Angry viewers complained to the BCCSA about the explicit portrayal of an attempted suicide in 7de Laan shown on 27 April, with someone saying that "I'm an adult person and I was very disturbed. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth". Another complainant said the violence and scene of suicide consideration "is totally uncalled for in what is supposed to be a family show".
Another complainant said: "This is supposed to be a family show and is shown in family time. How can they show someone trying to committ suicide? I think it its incredibly pathetic."
Yet another complainant who called 7de Laan's attempted suicide "upsetting" and a "pathetic display" said: "I would like to know if Herman (the character played by actor Deon Coetzee) or the producer ever witnessed a real suicide? I lost a son to suicide. This was just a sensation-seeking of the worst kind and shows the producer's insensitivity. The actor and the producer should be severely reprimanded for taking advantage of such a serious and hurtful situation. I suppose they're trying to upgrade the pathetic soapie."
The SABC responded by saying that it showed a suicide helpline number "for four seconds and five seconds respectively before the end credits". The SABC said it felt that "an advisory of PG13 V would be sufficient to alert sensitive viewers".
The BCCSA tribunal in its judgement found that the character's actions were indeed graphic, that scenes continued over two episodes, that the producers "admitted that the climax of the storyline was calculated to draw large audiences and to ensure that viewers tune in for the Monday episode".
"Television is a very powerful medium and witnessing violent scenes such as this may lead to severe emotional stress and anxiety in children," the BCCSA says in its judgement. "Although the visual depiction of such material may be central to the credibility of a storyline, it should be dealth with in a sensitive manner which is not too graphic."
"Broadcasters bear a heavy burden of responsibility in a country like South Africa where much emotional trauma is suffered because of acts of violence," reads the BCCSA judgement. "This makes it all the more important for them to take special care with storylines where the details are within their control, in contrast to news events, where its not."
"Younger children are very impressionable and do not dispose of established cognitive frameworks that would enable them to interpret violent psychological scenarios such as this one," the BCCSA finds. The Code of Conduct that broadcasters signed states that broadcasters are not allowed to "broadcast material which is harmful or disturbing to children at times when a large number of children are likely to be a part of the audience".
The BCCSA found that neither of SABC2's episodes of 7de Laan were suitable for children's viewing and that the 13V advisory was unrealistic and insufficient and that the "responsibility cannot, at that time of the evening, simply be shifted to parents".
SABC2 and 7de Laan weren't fined but found guilty of transgressing the code, reprimanded, and cautioned to be even more careful with material shown during family time.