BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Ross and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 1997-136

  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • L M Loates
  • R McLeod
  • Brian Ross
Standards Breached


The response by the Wellington Free Ambulance service to the fatal collapse of a

woman in Wainuiomata was examined during an item broadcast on 20/20 at 6.30pm on

27 July 1997. The item played extracts from a voice tape of the incident recorded at

the time in the Wellington Free Ambulance control room.

Mr Ross complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority that the broadcast had

breached his privacy. That had occurred when the tape of the incident reported the

officer attending the incident asking the controller to call Mr Ross, and provided Mr

Ross's address.

The broadcaster, TV3 Network Services Ltd, pointed out that Mr Ross's name was

given fleetingly, and his address indistinctly. Moreover, he had not been referred to

unfavourably. On the basis that the incident dealt with in the item was a matter of

considerable public interest, TV3 did not accept that Mr Ross's privacy had been


For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the privacy complaint and orders TV3 to

pay compensation of $500 to Mr Ross.


The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read

the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). In this instance, the Authority

determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

A 20/20 item broadcast on 27 July raised serious questions about the competence of

some aspects of the Wellington Free Ambulance service. A considerable part of the

item involved playing a voice tape from the Ambulance service control room about an

incident in Wainuiomata which involved the collapse and the death of a woman.

During the item, the ambulance officer attending the incident referred to Mr Ross as an

off-duty officer who lived in Wainuiomata, and asked the controller to "ring Brian

Ross at home". A little later, he also advised the controller that Mr Ross "lives in

Puriri Street".

Mr Ross complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority that the broadcast of

his name and address breached s.4(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, which requires

broadcasters to maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual.

Because of the nature of the incident covered in the item, he had been questioned

about the incident and his involvement by people he had met subsequently. He

observed that he had found their questions upsetting, and considered that his skills as

an ambulance officer had been called into question.

TV3 sent the Authority a transcript of the programme in which Mr Ross's name and

address were broadcast. The controller is recorded advising the officer at the scene

that he had been unsuccessful in his attempts to contact Mr Ross. It appears from

the broadcast that, in fact, the controller made no effort to contact Mr Ross until later.

Pointing out that the reference to Mr Ross was fleeting and his address was indistinct,

TV3 said that he was one officer who emerged favourably from an incident which was

less than favourable for the Wellington Free Ambulance. In addition, TV3 argued that

the use of the control room audio tape was in the public interest. Further, TV3

considered that Mr Ross, as a uniformed Ambulance Officer, would ordinarily have a

high public profile.

In its determination, of this complaint, the Authority begins by recording its

agreement with TV3 that the incident explored by TV3 "was a less than favourable

episode for the Wellington Free Ambulance". Although it appears that Mr Ross was

not in fact telephoned as the controller claimed at the time, the controller's statement

that he could not raise him, despite the statement from the officer at the scene that he

was "definitely at home", was open to the inference that there were shortcomings in

Mr Ross's own conduct in some way.

If Mr Ross's name and address were central to the incident explored during the item,

the Authority would accept that it was appropriate for his name to be used.

However, that was not the case. Indeed, and in contrast to the publication of Mr

Ross's name, the item did not give the full name of the controller who was the central

figure in the events disclosed. Nor did it provide the name of the informant who

commented on the tape.

The Authority agrees with TV3 that privacy principle (v) is the appropriate guideline

to apply to this complaint. It provides:

v)  The protection of privacy includes the protection against the disclosure by

the broadcaster, without consent, of the name and/or address and/or

telephone number of an identifiable person. This principle does not apply

to details which are public information, or to news and current affairs

reporting, and is subject to the "public interest" defence in principle (vi).

On this occasion, Mr Ross's name and address were irrelevant to the item and were

broadcast without his consent.

The Authority disagrees with TV3 that privacy principle (vi) is applicable. It


vi) Discussing the matter in the "public interest", defined as of legitimate concern

or interest to the public, is a defence to an individual's claim for privacy.

There is no dispute that a broadcast which dealt with the incident is in the public

interest. However, the public interest did not justify the broadcast of Mr Ross's

name. The Authority does not accept that Mr Ross as an ambulance officer would

ordinarily have a high public profile. There is no issue of accountability on his part.


For the above reasons, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast

by TV3 Network Services Ltd of an item on 20/20 on 27 July 1997, by giving the

name and address of Ambulance Officer Brian Ross, breached s.4(1)(c) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989.

Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make an order under s.13(1) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989. Mr Ross claimed that his ability as an ambulance officer was

questioned when his name and address were broadcast, accompanied by the

controller's claim that he could not contact him. Although there were in fact no

aspersions cast on Mr Ross, the Authority can understand why some people, because

his name was mentioned in full, expressed to him their distaste about the incident. In

the Authority's opinion, this is unjust and it considers that compensation of $500.00

is appropriate.

The Authority has given some thought to suppressing Mr Ross's name in its decision.

When asked for his opinion, Mr Ross did not express a strong view either way.

Because he carries no culpability for the incident dealt with in the item, the Authority

decides that it is not inappropriate to include his name in this decision.


Under s13(1)(d) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders TV3

Network Services Ltd to pay compensation to Mr Ross in the sum of $500. This

sum is to be paid within one month of the date of this decision.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Sam Maling
16 October 1997


Mr Ross's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 29 July 1997

Brian Ross of Wainuiomata complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority that

a 20/20 item, broadcast by TV3 Network Services Ltd at 6.30pm on 27 July 1997,

breached his privacy. The programme was about the death of a woman the Wellington

Free Ambulance attended in Wainuiomata, and involved playing part of the Wellington

Free Ambulance control room voice tape of the incident.

On a least two occasions during the programme, Mr Ross wrote, his full name and

address were given when the tape recorded the comment "ring Brian Ross at home" ...

"he lives in Puriri Street". The identification, he added, had made him answerable on a

sensitive issue. He had been concerned when he heard his name during the item, and

more so when asked about the incident by people he met. He said:

I found this very upsetting as I feel my skills as an ambulance officer were being


He concluded:

I personally disagree with the 20/20 programme's approach to this matter, and

feel they could have taken more care to protect people like myself, when after

all I was off duty and played no part in the matter that 20/20 was wanting to

bring to the public's attention.

TV3's Response to the Authority – 19 August 1997

Acknowledging that Mr Ross's name and address were each mentioned in the

recording of the proceedings made in the Wellington Free Ambulance control room,

TV3 said it involved a discussion between the controller and the ambulance officer

attending the patient going in to cardiac arrest. It then provided a transcript of the

tape as broadcast in the item in which it was noted that Brian Ross was at his home in

Puriri Street, but that the controller had been unable to raise him.

Assessing the complaint under privacy principles (v) and (vi), TV3 maintained that

the reference to Mr Ross was fleeting, and the reference to the street was indistinct.

Moreover, TV3 wrote, Mr Ross emerged favourably from an episode which reflected

unfavourably on the Ambulance Service.

TV3 considered:

... the 20/20 programme and the use of the control room audio was in the public

interest. It was important to indicate that an off duty officer was available in

Wainuiomata and that he had not been called by Control. Had he been, the

patient may well have survived. The public interest, particularly for the public

of Wellington, is obvious. The reference to Mr Ross is fleeting. The address is

barely distinguishable. Mr Ross is a uniformed officer of the Wellington Free

Ambulance and would ordinarily have a high public profile.

The TV3 Standards Committee does not uphold this privacy complaint on the

basis that the matter can be "defined as of legitimate concern or interest to the


Mr Ross's Final Comment

Mr Ross declined the offer to make further comment.