BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Grant and Phillips and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2019-013 (19 August 2019)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainants
  • S. Grant
  • Kelly Phillips
Number
2019-013
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

Warning: This decision contains content that some readers may find distressing.

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

On 15 March 2019 a special 1 News broadcast covered the terrorist attacks on two Christchurch mosques. The broadcast featured footage of victims being taken into hospital, many of whom had visibly sustained gunshot injuries and/or were identifiable. The Authority did not uphold two complaints that the coverage breached the privacy standard. The Authority found that media coverage of this event had high public interest in light of the unprecedented nature of extreme violence that occurred. The media had an important role to play in informing the public of events as they unfolded, including the nature and scope of injuries suffered and the action of first responders, including medical personnel. The Authority acknowledged that the repeated use of footage of identifiable victims amounted to a breach of privacy but found that the public interest defence applied. The Authority also did not uphold a complaint that the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards were breached. The Authority found that there was sufficient signposting by the broadcaster of the nature of the event being reported on to enable audiences to make informed choices as to whether they, or children in their care, should watch the coverage. The Authority held that the footage of the victims (which illustrated the gravity of the situation) was justified in the public interest.

Not Upheld: Privacy, Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests, Violence


Introduction  

[1]  A special 1 News broadcast on 15 March 2019 covered the terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. During this broadcast there was repeated footage of victims being rushed into hospital.

[2]  At 3.30pm, while an interviewee from the Islamic Women‘s Council was talking to Simon Dallow about her community’s view of the attacks, footage was shown of victims arriving at hospital for medical care. The footage showed victims being moved from ambulances to the hospital with various injuries, including one victim with a serious head wound. Some of the men shown are without shirts and one is without trousers. The footage of these people was repeated over the following 90 minutes, interspersed with interviews and statements from third parties and reporting from Simon Dallow on the events as they unfolded.

[3]  The Authority received two complaints about the period of coverage between 3:30-5:00pm on 15 March 2019. Both complainants submit that the privacy of the identifiable victims shown in the coverage was breached. One of the complainants also submitted that the use of footage of the victims, considering their vulnerable position and the nature of their injuries, breached the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards. As the complaints raise similar issues about the same broadcast, we have considered them together.

[4]  In our determination of this complaint, we have been assisted by an independent cultural advisor, engaged to provide a Muslim perspective on the issues raised. We co-opted the independent advisor under section 26(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 to provide this assistance. While an advisor co-opted to the Authority does not have voting power, they are permitted to participate in the Authority’s deliberations. We are grateful for the assistance provided to us in this case.

[5]  These complaints raise important issues about the application of broadcasting standards to reporting on unprecedented and crisis events. We have carefully considered the issues raised from the perspective of the victims, their family and friends, and the Muslim community; from the perspective of members of the wider New Zealand community; and from the perspective of broadcasters who had responsibility for providing coverage and keeping New Zealand informed about the events as they unfolded. In making this decision, we recognise the impact that this event has had on New Zealand, particularly on the victims and the Muslim community.

The complaints

[6]  S. Grant complained that the coverage from 3:30pm to 4:20pm breached the privacy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:

  • During the coverage of the ‘tragic events’ in Christchurch, 1 News broadcast footage of emergency vehicles arriving at Christchurch hospital. This included footage of clearly identifiable victims being transported into the building in various states, including many instances of ‘the camera operator zooming in on their faces’.
  • This was a gross breach of the victims’ privacy and could have been significantly harmful to their family members if this was how they found out about what happened to them.

[7]  Kelly Phillips complained that the coverage from 3:30pm to 5:00pm breached the privacy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:

  • 1 News repeated footage of victims being unloaded from ambulances outside the Christchurch hospital. The victims were in ‘vulnerable states’, ‘in various states of undress’ and their faces were ‘visible.’ This was a breach of their privacy.
  • Ms Phillips cited the tort of invasion of privacy test from Hosking v Runting [2005] 1 NZLR 1 (CA).1
  • While the footage was captured in the ‘public domain’, it was ‘unique’, as it contained images of victims being transported to medical care.
  • It was not necessary to show the identifiable victims being taken into hospital to convey the full effect of the events that unfolded.

[8]  Ms Phillips also complained that the coverage from 3:30pm to 5:00pm breached the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:

  • The footage of a victim with a head wound was graphic, as it featured ‘brain matter’ being exposed and was clearly visible for long enough that people could see it. This was made worse by the ‘repeated broadcast’ of this footage.
  • Ms Phillips made a call to TVNZ minutes after the footage was first shown to alert them to it but they continued to show it ‘on a loop’ without blurring ‘in the hours that followed’.
  • ‘If this had been a one-off, live shot and these things were occurring in the background, accidental exposure would seem plausible’. However, this was ‘recorded footage shown on a loop’.
  • Children may have seen the broadcast due to the time of day. It was ‘unreasonable for TVNZ to claim the onus is with the parents’ to prevent children from viewing the coverage and it was impossible for viewers to foresee the broadcast and repeat broadcast of the ‘graphic footage.’

The broadcaster’s response

[9]  With regard to the complainants’ privacy submissions, TVNZ responded:

  • Certain victims were identifiable in the footage.
  • The footage was taken from a distance outside the hospital emergency bay, in a public area where any person might see this happening.
  • TVNZ does not agree that the footage was highly offensive to an objective reasonable person in the position of the person affected. The camera view does not zoom in on the men or their injuries. There was no element of intrusion in the way that the footage was captured, or in the way it was broadcast.
  • The footage was part of the broadcast of an unprecedented and horrific event. As victims of a violent attack they were vulnerable and had a right to privacy. However, TVNZ considers that it was in the public interest for the event to be shown and explained in the way it was in the footage.
  • TVNZ submitted the public interest defence should apply because:
    • The footage gave a clear indication of the level of the attack to a public who were having trouble reconciling the horror of what was unfolding.
    • In this context, the footage was not screened to be prurient or to ‘titillate’ viewers, it was provided as a sobering record of an event which many were struggling to believe had happened in New Zealand.
    • The Prime Minister noted the value of the reporting when she referenced the fact that we were all able to see for ourselves from the images broadcast that this was a traumatic event.
    • The footage provided an avenue for universal compassion for the victims and gave the events human context. This is important in the event of a mass shooting. It is part of the expectation of how terror attacks are reported that broadcasters send the message that the victims’ lives have more value and are more important than the killer’s actions.
    • TVNZ also argued that the High Court decision in Andrews v Television New Zealand Ltd, NZHC CIV 2004-404-3536 concerning the broadcast of footage of two people who had been injured in a car accident, was relevant to the present case regarding when there is a ‘right to privacy’ and when a ‘defence of legitimate public concern’ may be applicable.2
  • TVNZ acknowledged the complainants’ perspectives, noting that, on the face of it these images were upsetting and showed an event of considerable concern. However, the broadcast was of the ‘highest’ public concern and best attempts were made by 1 News to navigate the line between providing enough information to the public and avoiding harm to viewers and those depicted.

[10]  TVNZ submitted that the coverage did not breach the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards for the following reasons:

Good Taste and Decency

  • 1 News is aimed at an adult audience.
  • The Authority has acknowledged that ‘children of a vulnerable age are unlikely to watch the news unattended.’3 There is an expectation that parents exercise discretion around viewing news and current affairs programmes with their children.
  • There is an expectation that news broadcasts of serious crime and disasters will carry some footage of the event including film of bodies, accidents and civil unrest.
  • Warnings were given periodically during the coverage throughout the day at: 2:44pm, 5:48pm, 6:00pm and 6:23pm.
  • The attacks were unprecedented and the entirety of what had happened was upsetting. Best attempts were made to navigate the line between providing the public with information and avoiding harm in light of this unprecedented event.
  • The footage was not screened to ‘titillate’ viewers but as a sobering record of an event which many were struggling to believe had happened in New Zealand.
  • There was a high level of public interest in this story.
  • The footage was ‘humanised’ by the interviewee’s words in the broadcast and the broadcast provided a compassionate understanding of what had occurred.
  • The footage of the man with the head injury was not as graphic as described by Ms Phillips and there was no prolonged focus on the wound so it was not clearly visible to viewers.
  • The remainder of the footage (including shirtless and trouser-less victims being taken to hospital) was not inherently offensive considering the circumstances. The footage was not captured by prying or interfering with the victims but was taken from a distance in a public area.

Children’s Interests

  • Care was exercised during the broadcast and warnings were given throughout the day. Sufficient information was provided so children could be protected.
  • There were ‘high level editorial discussions from the very first moment footage started coming in from Christchurch and we continue[d] to assess our editorial commitments on an hourly basis’.

Violence

  • Audience advisories were given throughout the day. None were given directly before the screening of footage at 3:30pm, however, viewers would have been aware that the broadcast may contain such footage given the events discussed.
  • There was public interest in broadcasting the images. As noted above in connection with other standards, the images gave a clear indication of the level of the attack to a public which was having trouble reconciling that such a horrific event was occurring.
  • The Prime Minister noted the value of the reporting.
  • While the head wound seems to be serious, the footage of it was not graphic.
  • No one was depicted being harmed in the footage, they are all receiving care.

The standards

[11]   The privacy standard (Standard 10) reflects the high value our society places on privacy. It requires broadcasters to maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual. The standard aims to protect, where reasonable, people’s wishes not to have themselves or their affairs broadcast to the public. It seeks to protect their dignity, autonomy, mental wellbeing and reputation, and their ability to develop relationships, opinions and creativity away from the glare of publicity.4

[12]  In deciding whether the standard has been breached, we consider three criteria:

  • whether the individual(s) whose privacy has allegedly been interfered with was identifiable;
  • whether the broadcast disclosed private information or material about the individual(s), over which they had a reasonable expectation of privacy; and
  • whether the disclosure could be considered highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.5

[13]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.6 The standard states that current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast.

[14]  The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) states that broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. In news, current affairs and factual programmes, disturbing or alarming material should be justified in the public interest.7

[15]  The violence standard (Standard 4) requires broadcasters to exercise care and discretion when referencing violence. Any depiction of, or reference to, violence should be justified by context.8 In news, current affairs and factual programmes, where disturbing or alarming material is often shown to reflect a world in which violence occurs, the material should be justified in the public interest.9

Our analysis

Freedom of expression and public interest

[16]  As we have observed above, these complaints raise important issues about freedom of expression and about the role media play in reporting during a crisis. The right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, is the starting point in our consideration of complaints. We may only interfere and uphold complaints where the resulting limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified. Our task is to weigh the value of the programme and the importance of the expression against the level of actual or potential harm that may be caused by the broadcast.

[17]   On 15 March, New Zealand media had a critical role to play to inform the community about what was unfolding in Christchurch in an accurate and unbiased way without causing harm. The media’s role was to provide information with sufficient detail to enable the community to understand what had occurred and to make decisions about their own safety and response to the situation that had arisen. The standards provide some guidance to assist media to strike a critical balance between reporting the events and informing the public about their scale and seriousness, without causing undue harm.

[18]  We recognise the extreme circumstances facing broadcasters that day, as they worked to bring the news to the community as clearly and accurately as possible. The events of this day were of the highest public interest and unprecedented.

[19]  A significant portion of the nation tuned in to watch the events unfold in real time, as TVNZ and other broadcasters attempted to provide the public with up-to-date information and the latest developments. The Prime Minister acknowledged the role broadcasters played in conveying the nature and scale of the event to the public during her first speech in response to the attacks: ‘I’m not currently in a position to confirm the number of deaths or injuries but I have to acknowledge people can see images live from Christchurch, it will be obvious to them that this is a significant event, and I can tell you now this is and will be one of New Zealand’s darkest days.’

[20]  As we discuss below, we understand the perspective that additional steps could have been taken to pixelate or blur some of the images of the victims.  Self-censorship by broadcasters may have mitigated the impact on viewers. However, the concern of the New Zealand public was to know what happened that day and broadcasters needed to err on the side of completeness of coverage, rather than self-censorship.

[21]  On balance, in the context of what was occurring and the time of the broadcast, we consider the broadcast of brief details of the effect of the violence on some of the victims was important to demonstrate the nature and gravity of the unfolding events. We consider that this broadcast kept the public informed about the situation in a respectful and sensitive manner.

[22]  Accordingly, we have found that the unprecedented level of public interest in this case outweighed the potential harm caused by this coverage. We expand on our reasoning below.

Privacy

Identification

[23]  As the privacy standard applies only to identifiable individuals,10 we must first determine whether the people whose privacy has allegedly been interfered with were identifiable in the broadcast.

[24]  The test under the privacy standard is whether the individual was identifiable beyond family and close friends who would reasonably be expected to know about the matter dealt with in the broadcast.11

[25]  TVNZ have accepted the coverage featured identifiable victims as they were taken into the hospital. We agree. The coverage included repeated footage of many victims being taken into hospital by staff. We consider that six victims were identifiable as their faces were repeatedly broadcast.

Disclosure of private information or material

[26]  The next question for us to consider is whether the broadcast disclosed any private information or material about the identifiable individuals, over which they had a reasonable expectation of privacy. A person will not usually have a reasonable expectation of privacy over information or material that is in the public domain, for example, where there has been widespread media coverage. However, in some cases, they may have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to information or material even though it is in the public domain.12

[27]  While a hospital is, at times, publicly accessible, those receiving medical treatment could reasonably expect privacy when going there. Those featured were injured, in a vulnerable state, some only partially clad, and on the way to get medical care.  While some of the victims were not visibly wounded, no one knew the extent of their injuries, physical or otherwise considering what they had just experienced.

[28]  We find the footage of these injured victims being taken to hospital for treatment amounted to sensitive information over which they had an expectation of privacy.13

Highly offensive disclosure

[29]  Where private information or material has been disclosed, over which featured individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, the next question for us to consider is whether this disclosure could be considered highly offensive to an objective reasonable person in the position of the person or people affected.

[30]  While the method of filming the victims may not have been intrusive or offensive, the disclosure is nonetheless likely to be highly offensive where the material is particularly ‘traumatic’ or ‘the person[s] are particularly vulnerable.’14 As discussed above, these patients were in a vulnerable position, injured and partially clad.

[31]  In assessing whether this disclosure was highly offensive, we have taken into account the following:

  • We are advised that, in the Islamic faith, modesty is important. In the case of Muslim men this includes the body from the navel to the knee. One of the victims appears to have had his trousers removed or cut away as part of the emergency services provided to him. This feature compounds the state of vulnerability for this person, and increases the potential offensiveness from a cultural and religious perspective.
  • The privacy standard recognises the societal expectation that there are times and places where individuals are entitled to be left alone.15 We consider being taken to hospital in the aftermath of a traumatic event to be one of those times.
  • The standard aims to protect people’s dignity, autonomy and mental wellbeing. The repeated use of footage of identifiable victims, without pixelation or blurring, in such a vulnerable state, having just experienced the attack and needing medical attention, had the potential to significantly affect their dignity, autonomy and wellbeing.  

[32]  Therefore, we consider the disclosure of private information was highly offensive and find that a breach of privacy has occurred with respect to the identifiable six victims. Having found a breach of privacy, the next question is whether any of the defences are available to the broadcaster. The broadcaster has submitted that the public interest defence applies and we now turn to consider this defence.

Public Interest Defence

[33]  Guideline 10f to the privacy standard states that it is a defence to a privacy complaint to publicly disclose matters of legitimate public interest. The degree of public interest in the material broadcast must be proportionate to the gravity of the breach of privacy in order for this defence to apply.16

[34]  The public interest must also relate to the disclosure of the particular information that is alleged to have breached the standard, in this case the repeated use of footage of the victims’ identifiable features. However, the public interest in the broadcast as a whole will also be considered.17

[35]  In making this assessment, we have considered whether there was legitimate public interest in seeing repeated images of the identifiable victims in a significantly vulnerable state. We have asked ourselves whether this was necessary to inform the public of the severity and scale of the events that were unfolding that afternoon.  We discussed the fact that these images had been taken earlier in the day and therefore some pixelation and blurring could have been applied, or that the presenter could have described the images with words.

[36]  On balance we consider that these images were an important part of the reporting of this event. The images were used intermittently, albeit repeatedly, across a period of 90 minutes on the day of the attacks. As we have noted above, the images demonstrated the effect of the violence and conveyed the nature and gravity of the events.

[37]  We consider that the guidance provided by the High Court in Andrews v Television New Zealand, in its consideration of the defence of legitimate public concern under the tort of invasion of privacy, is relevant. In that case the Court said:18

In assessing an asserted defence of legitimate public concern, the Court will ordinarily permit a degree of journalistic latitude, so as to avoid robbing the story of its attendant detail, which adds colour and conviction.

[38]  The High Court also referred to a decision of the Supreme Court of California, Shulman & Ors v Group W productions Inc & Ors and said:19

… [I]n some instances, while a particular event may be newsworthy, identification of the plaintiff as the person involved, or use of the plaintiff’s identifiable image, adds nothing of significance to the story. But the fact that the broadcast could have been edited to exclude some of the plaintiff’s words and images, will not be determinative. Nor is the possibility that a Court might find a differently edited broadcast more to its taste, or even more interesting. The Court does not sit as a censor.

[39]  In our view the degree of detail shown in the 1 News item, including images of the identifiable victims, was relevant and essential to the narrative. The scale of injury and medical attention provided to the victims was of legitimate public concern. In our view the public interest in the shootings was of the highest level for New Zealand on this day. Therefore the public interest in up-to-date coverage as the events unfolded was significant. We also do not consider the footage of the identifiable victims was used to ‘titillate’ viewers, nor was it sensationalised. It provided a humanising and sobering account of what was unfolding in our country.  

[40]  Lastly, but importantly, we have taken into account the comments provided by our cultural advisor. While he also acknowledged that some of the images intruded on the privacy of the victims, he considered that the reporting was balanced, respectful and in the public interest. From the perspective of the Muslim community he considered it was important to show the gravity and scale of what had happened. 

[41]  With respect to the footage of a man with his trousers removed or cut away on a stretcher and other partially clad men, as noted above this may not be in keeping with the principles of modesty which is important in the Islamic faith. This footage was also repeated on loop throughout the broadcast, enhancing the ‘cumulative impact’ it may have had. However, as noted by the cultural advisor, the footage was on balance respectful, sensitive and of significant public interest to the Muslim community and wider New Zealand community.

[42]  We therefore find the public interest to be very high and proportionate to the gravity of the breaches of privacy on this occasion. As the public interest defence applies we do not uphold the complaints under the privacy standard.

Good Taste and Decency

[43]  As stated in paragraph [13] above, the purpose of this standard is to protect audience members from material likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards.20 We recognise that some of the footage used, particularly the footage of the man with the head wound may have been considered graphic and upsetting by some people. We also note the effect that repeated broadcasting of disturbing content from events like this can have on the public.21

[44]  However, context will always be relevant when determining a complaint under the good taste and decency standard.22 We found the following contextual factors to be relevant in our assessment:

  • This was an unclassified news programme about an unprecedented violent event in New Zealand.
  • The coverage was provided on the day of the attack as events were unfolding. 
  • While the footage of the man with the head wound was played three times at the beginning of the broadcast, it was not repeated in the next hour and 25 minutes.
  • The clips of specific victims, particularly the man with the head injury, were generally brief.
  • While there were no audience advisories in the broadcasts provided, or between 2:50pm and 5:45pm, there was substantial signposting and signalling that this was coverage of an unprecedented violent event.
  • Presenter Simon Dallow and the banner at the bottom of the broadcast indicated that the programme related to an extreme act of violence in New Zealand.
  • Considering the nature of the events being reported upon, audiences could expect that the special bulletin may include some distressing content.
  • There was the highest level of public interest in this news story.
  • There was limited time in which TVNZ could exercise editorial control in order to keep the community informed. They had to balance providing information to the public and preventing harm in a high pressure, instantaneous environment. 
  • It was likely that new viewers would be tuning in at different times as news of the attack reached the wider community.
  • There is nothing to suggest TVNZ intended to sensationalise the events through the use of the footage and they have submitted that it was intended to convey the tragedy of what was unfolding.

[45]  The key issue we considered under this standard was whether TVNZ took sufficient steps to inform viewers of the nature of the coverage (particularly the repeated footage of the man with the head wound and the other injured victims), enabling viewers to regulate their own viewing behaviour, as well as the viewing behaviour of any children in their care,[23] or whether further audience advisories were required.24

[46]  The Authority’s established approach to complaints concerning the good taste and decency standard is that, where broadcasters are able to successfully manage their audience’s expectations by providing information sufficient for them to make informed choices about content – such as audience advisories – breaches of the standard will be less likely.25

[47]  We acknowledge that there were no express audience advisories for graphic content during the period of the programme complained about. However, we consider that in the context of reporting on this significant event, there was sufficient information for viewers to prepare themselves for graphic footage and enable themselves to make informed decisions about whether they wanted to view the coverage.

[48]  It was clear to anyone tuning in that the 1 News report related to a violent shooting event. The on-screen banner and narrative from the presenter clearly related to a violent news item. As we have discussed above, we consider that the coverage and detailed reporting was in the public interest, and that sufficient steps were taken, in the context of this event, to enable audiences to make a decision whether to continue watching the coverage.

[49]  As we have found in previous decisions about national events, members of the public rely on media sources for information and advice regarding their safety and what is happening around them. They have a right to know about the scale and impact of any event, so that they can act and prepare themselves accordingly. The media delivers an important public service. It is critical that information is provided in a timely way as it becomes available. On 15 March, there was significant public interest in what had occurred and the public was entitled to be kept informed.26

[50]  On this occasion, we recognise that, as TVNZ broadcast this event of national interest, they determined that:

  • the seriousness of the injuries inflicted on members of the community was a critical part of the story, as it provided a human element to assist the community in comprehending the horrific nature of what was unfolding; and
  • they were providing the audience with sufficient information to be prepared for the footage provided. 

[51]  While it may not always be appropriate to broadcast such footage without a more detailed audience advisory, we are satisfied that, in the extreme circumstances in which TVNZ were operating, they discharged their responsibilities under this standard. We find audiences had sufficient information to make informed decisions about viewing the coverage.

[52]  In these circumstances, we do not uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency standard.

Children’s Interests

[53]  The key question for us to consider under the children’s interest standard is whether the broadcaster took steps to ensure children could be protected from content that might adversely affect them. Again we must take account of contextual factors, such as the time of broadcast, target and likely audience and the public interest in the broadcast.[27] We will also consider whether the audience advisories broadcast were sufficient to allow parents to make an informed choice about their children’s exposure to the content.28

[54]  Guideline 3d to the standard also provides that in news, current affairs and factual programmes, disturbing or alarming material should be justified in the public interest. Broadcasters must use judgement and discretion when deciding the degree of graphic material to be included in news programmes, and should broadcast an audience advisory when appropriate, particularly when children are likely to be viewing.

[55]  We acknowledge that the footage was broadcast during children’s normal viewing times.29 We also accept that the broadcast contained material which was likely to disturb or alarm children.

[56]  However, contextual factors listed in paragraph [44] under the good taste and decency standard are also relevant to the assessment of the children’s interests standard.  The timing of this broadcast was dictated by the time of the event. In the days following the event, broadcasters used a variety of methods to communicate the views of various groups within the community. As stated there was high public interest in the events being reported on and the footage aired at that time. The question is therefore whether in that context the broadcaster did enough to protect children’s interests and whether additional advisories were required.

[57]  We have given this careful thought and consider that in the context of the events of 15 March, and the coverage as a whole, parents and caregivers had sufficient information to decide whether the coverage was suitable for children in their care, taking into account the following:

  • 1 News is an unclassified news programme. Given the national significance of the events, audiences could expect that TVNZ would broadcast ongoing coverage of the attacks in lieu of regular programming. Further, given the nature of the event, such footage was likely to contain disturbing content.
  • There was regular signposting from Mr Dallow regarding the nature of the broadcast, combined with onscreen banners, to alert viewers to the nature of the content.

[58]  Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under the children’s interests standard.

Violence

[59]  The key question for the Authority under this standard is whether TVNZ exercised an appropriate level of care and discretion in its portrayal of violence through the images of the injured victims (particularly the man with the head wound). As part of this the Authority has considered whether the content in this news item was justified in the public interest, taking into account the context, the level of discretion exercised by TVNZ and the use or lack of audience advisories.30

[60]  The guidelines to this standard state that broadcasters should be mindful of the cumulative effect of violence or violent incidents and themes, within broadcasts.31

[61]  In our view, the coverage complained about did not show actual violence and so our assessment is based on the footage containing implied violence/violent themes.

[62]  The factors listed under the good taste and decency standard are also relevant to the violence standard.

[63]  As we have found above, the public interest in the events was of the highest level. The broadcast of injured victims, including a man with a head wound, while disturbing, provided an important human element to the broadcast that helped to convey the gravity of the situation to the public as they came to terms with what was unfolding.

[64]  We consider the audience had sufficient information about the content broadcast to make an informed choice about whether to continue watching.

[65]  While footage was repeated, potentially enhancing the ‘cumulative effect’ of violent content in the coverage, this was all within a number of hours, on the day of the attack (when people might be expected to be tuning in at different times as events came to their notice). 

[66]  We acknowledge TVNZ’s submissions in which they explain the care taken in this situation, noting that high level editorial discussions were occurring from the moment footage started coming in from Christchurch, and that they continued to assess editorial commitments on an hourly basis.

[67]  For the above reasons, we consider TVNZ exercised appropriate care (in extreme circumstances) and that the use of the footage complained about was justified in the public interest. Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the violence standard.

Concluding Comments

[68]  The Authority has given careful consideration to its decision on the complaints raised, recognising that they presented challenging issues requiring a delicate weighing up of individual rights against public interests.

[69]  Our decision takes into account the unprecedented circumstances covered in the programme and the high public interest in this event on the day, whilst also acknowledging the interests of, and the impact on, the victims and their family and friends.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaints.
 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

19 August 2019

 

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1     S. Grant’s formal complaint – 16 March 2019

2     TVNZ’s response and appendix – 17 April 2019

3     Kelly Phillips’ formal complaint – 15 March 2019

4     TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 12 April 2019

5     Ms Phillips’ referral to the Authority– 30 April 2019

6     TVNZ’s further comments – 21 May 2109

7      Ms Phillips’ final comments – 23 May 2019

8     TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 5 June 2019

9     TVNZ’s timeline of audience warnings – 11 June 2019


1 Hosking v Runting & Others [2004] NZCA 34; [2003] 3 NZLR 385
2 Andrews v Television New Zealand Ltd HC Auckland CIV-2004-404-3536
3 Barker and Television New Zealand Limited, Decision No. 2000-033
4 Commentary: Privacy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
5 Guidelines 10a and 10b
6 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
7 Guideline 3d
8 Guideline 4a
9 Guideline 4d
10 Guideline 10a
11 Guidance: Privacy, 2.1, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 59
12 Guideline 10d
13 See for example: Rickard and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2016-098
14 Guidance: Privacy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 60
15 Commentary: Privacy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
16 Guidance: Privacy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 61
17 As above
18 Andrews v Television New Zealand Ltd HC Auckland CIV-2004-404-3536 at [82]
19 955 P.2d 469 (Cal 1998) in Andrews v Television New Zealand Ltd HC Auckland CIV-2004-404-3536 at [87]
20 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
21 See: https://dartcenter.org/content/trauma-coverage-impact-on-public
22 Guideline 1a
23 Guideline 1b
24 Guideline 1c
25 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
26 Morton and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No 2017-004 at [8]
27 Guideline 3b
28 Guideline 3c
29 Children’s normally accepted viewing times for free-to-air television are usually up until 8:30pm and especially before and after school (Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9)
30 Guideline 4d
31 Guideline 4b