BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

YH and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1997-172, 1997-173

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • J Withers
Dated
Number
1997-172–173
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

A fire on Ponui Island was covered in an item on One Network News, broadcast

between 6.00–6.30pm on 21 September 1997. The item reported that the locals were

concerned at the length of time it took for the emergency services to respond, and at

the behaviour of a man at the fire.

Ms H complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was

unfair to the man referred to in view of his obvious mentally disturbed behaviour.

She also complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(c) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989 that the item infringed the man's privacy.

Explaining that the item showed some matters which had caused the locals to be

concerned, and equating the coverage with an item about a student or political

demonstration, TVNZ declined to uphold the standards complaint.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Ms H referred that complaint to the Broadcasting

Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.


Decision

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 news item about a fire on Ponui Island focussed on two matters. The first was the

time it took for the emergency services to arrive. The second was the behaviour of a

man at the site of the fire. He was shown in the item at the scene of the fire, and

being led away by the Police.

Ms H complained to the Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 that

as it was obvious that the man had a severe mental disorder, the filming was in poor

taste and an invasion of his privacy. She also complained to TVNZ that it was unfair

to the man.

In addition to commenting on the alleged breach of the man's privacy, TVNZ

assessed Ms H's complaint under standard G4 of the Television Code of Broadcasting

Practice. It requires broadcasters:

G4   To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any

programme.


TVNZ explained that the item covered the two matters noted and, in regard to the

attention paid to the man at the scene, it pointed out that his behaviour had been a

cause of concern to the locals. Maintaining that it was not the task of a journalist to

decide if a person was insane, TVNZ drew a parallel with coverage of a student

demonstration. At such events, it wrote, it was not unusual for identifiable people to

be apprehended by the Police. On such occasions, television covered people being

detained in a highly visible situation.

Dealing specifically with the standards, TVNZ said the man was not named but, in the

factually accurate item, he was shown acting in an unusual manner near the fire, and

then being led away by the Police. As the events had been reported in the public

interest, and had caused public consternation, TVNZ said the material was justifiably

screened.

When she referred the standards complaint to the Authority, Ms H provided some

information about the man's subsequent diagnosis as a manic depressive. She did not

accept the analogy to a student demonstration, as the fire, she said, was not a public

event. She considered that TVNZ had been insensitive in its coverage of a person

obviously requiring care. In a later letter, she stated that television coverage of

individuals in such circumstances could well impede their recovery. Ms H said that

she understood that the Police were to complain about TVNZ's coverage of the fire.

TVNZ later advised that there was no record of any such complaint.

While understanding Ms H's concerns, the Authority accepts TVNZ's submissions on

the complaints. It agrees that a parallel can be drawn with television coverage of an

event such as a political demonstration, where people are shown behaving in a manner

which results in their being led away by the Police. The Authority also agrees that it

is not a journalist's task to decide the issue of the sanity of a person at the scene of a

newsworthy event.

On this occasion, TVNZ reported the event as it unfolded, which included some

coverage of the unusual behaviour on the part of the man later apprehended. While

the Authority accepts that there is a threshold beyond which coverage can become

invasive, this was not an issue on this occasion given the nature of the relatively brief

news item. The Authority concludes that the man's privacy was not invaded, and that

he was not dealt with unfairly.

 

For the reasons above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
15 December 1997

Appendix


Ms H's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 26 September 1997

Y H complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about an item on One Network News

broadcast between 6.00–6.30pm on 21 September 1997.

The item had dealt with a possible case of arson on Ponui Island and, Ms H wrote, she

considered the item unbalanced and lacked fairness as filming had taken place after

TVNZ had inappropriately intercepted a Police message.

The item had referred to the behaviour of a person at the scene and, Ms H stated, as it

was obvious that this person had a severe mental disorder, the filming was both in

poor taste and an invasion of that person's privacy.

Ms H's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 10 October 1997

After corresponding with the Broadcasting Standards Authority on the privacy matter,

on 10 October 1997 Ms H complained directly to the Authority, under s.8(1)(c) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989, that the item breached that person's privacy. She alleged that

the item breached privacy principles (i) and (iv).

In conclusion, she recorded that she was the fiancee of the man shown being taken

away by the police.

TVNZ's Response to both Complaints - 21 October 1997

Assessing the complaints respectively under s.4(1)(c) of the Act and standard G4 of

the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, TVNZ advised that the item had

described a fire which destroyed a house on Ponui Island. It reported the concern

among local people both at the time taken for the emerging services to arrive (3

hours), and at the activities of a man at the scene of the fire. The item showed the

man being detained by the Police and led away.

TVNZ assured Ms H that it had not acted improperly in gaining information about the

fire, and had not participated in any illegal or unethical behaviour.

As for the man detained, TVNZ pointed out that his behaviour had been a cause of

concern to the local people. It was not a journalist's task to determine insanity, and

his arrest had been public. TVNZ continued:

There was nothing new or different about the Ponui fire story.

Obviously we are sorry if family members were upset by seeing the man

arrested on television, but his situation is surely no different from a student

being detained at a demonstration, or an activist being arrested at a Waitangi

Day ceremony?

Turning to standard G4, TVNZ said that the man had not been treated unfairly. He

was accurately shown behaving in an unusual manner. He was not named, and it was

not suggested that he had started the blaze.

With regard to the privacy complaint, TVNZ pointed out that the man had adopted a

high profile at the scene of the fire and, thus, acting in such a way in public amounted

to consenting to an invasion of privacy in terms of principle (vii). Moreover, the item

was one of public interest as accepted on a defence in principle (vi). TVNZ did not

accept that principles (i) and (iv) were relevant.

TVNZ declined to uphold both complaints.

Ms H's Letter to the Authority - 23 October 1997

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision on the standards complaint, Ms H referred it to the

Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. In the same letter, she

responded to TVNZ's comments on the privacy matter. Ms H also forwarded a copy

of a fax to her MP, Mr Warren Kydd, in which she expressed concern at TVNZ's

broadcast of the item.

In the fax to Mr Kydd, she explained that the person shown in the item had been

charged with arson among other matters. He had also been diagnosed, not for the first

time, as a manic depressive. As his behaviour was not normal at the time when he

had been filmed by TVNZ, she maintained that the item on the news was not

warranted.

Ms H also said that she had been advised by the Police that they had lodged a

complaint with TVNZ as the only source of information about the fire would have

been on the police radio. She disagreed with TVNZ's analogy of Waitangi Day,

maintaining that arson was not a public event. She was adamant that TVNZ had been

insensitive in its coverage of the event.

On the basis that she was making the complaint on behalf of less privileged people

who were subject to the Mental Health Act, she asked that the decision omit her

name.

TVNZ's Report to the Authority - 31 October 1997

TVNZ made the following points:

* As the man filmed was to face criminal charges, he was not likely to be

suffering from a severe mental disorder as the complainant claimed.

* A fire, it maintained, was a public event and media coverage was clearly in the

public interest when foul play was suspected.

* The justice system in New Zealand was open, and the news media informed

people when people were detained by the Police. Faces were covered in news

reports only in rare cases, for compelling reasons.

* The item, it maintained, reported events in a factual and unemotional way, and

reflected the change of focus from the fire to the behaviour of the man

subsequently taken away by the Police.

TVNZ concluded:

We do not intend to divulge the source of our information about the Ponui

Island fire. However Ms H's reference to police radio prompts us to observe

that there is nothing wrong with monitoring police radio bands; it becomes an

offence only if the material picked up from that source is broadcast without

being independently verified by the news media organisation concerned.

In reference to the quoted remarks by the arresting officer, we note that

whatever he told Ms H he could not possibly have known the source of the

information which led TVNZ to attend the Ponui Island fire. Further we

advise that despite Ms H's reference to comments by the Detective Sergeant

TVNZ has received no complaints either verbally or in writing from the police

concerning this matter.

Ms H's Final Comment - 12 November 1997

Continuing to argue that TVNZ should display more sensitivity when referring to

people dealt with under the Mental Health legislation, Ms H explained that the man

was arrested at the scene under the Mental Health Act. He had since been in intensive

care and although he had appeared in Court on two occasions, action had been

deferred because of his mental condition. He was not considered fit to face charges.

Ms H expressed her belief that he was the victim of both a severe mental disorder, and

of sensational and insensitive television reporting. The rights of the individuals in

such circumstances, she wrote, should be explored as national television coverage

could impede their recovery.

Referring to the stresses she had experienced, Ms H sought an apology from TVNZ to

the man and to his family.