BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Le Comte and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1999-159, 1999-160

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • J Withers
Dated
Complainant
  • Paul Le Comte
Number
1999-159–160
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

A news item reported that an 18 month old girl was rescued from a fiercely burning home as a result of the heroism of a fire officer. The item was screened on One Network News, broadcast between 6.00-7.00 pm on 15 July 1999, and repeated on Breakfast beginning at 7.00 am the following morning.

Mr Le Comte complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 that footage showing the young unconscious girl receiving medical treatment was an invasion of her dignity and privacy.

As the item had emphasised the fire officer’s heroism, had not disclosed offensive facts and had not ridiculed the young girl, Television New Zealand Ltd did not accept that the item had breached her privacy.

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 which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

The rescue of a very young girl from a burning building by a fire officer was dealt with in an item broadcast on One Network News broadcast at about 6.05 pm on 15 July. The item was repeated at about 8.05 am on Breakfast the following morning.

Mr Le Comte objected to the footage showing the young girl receiving medical treatment while unconscious. He considered that it was an invasion of her dignity and privacy. Mr Le Comte acknowledged that the public had a right to know about such rescues, but considered that the amateur footage used on this occasion was unnecessary.

In its response, TVNZ said that the item dealt with an act of heroism. The fireman had only 30 seconds in which to save the child because, as the item noted, temperatures in the building reached 600 degrees Celsius. TVNZ did not accept that the item contained "close-ups of the girl’s face", as Mr Le Comte alleged, and said it did not regard the item as intrusive. TVNZ attached items and photographs of the rescue from the "NZ Herald", in which the child’s father expressed his thanks to the fire officer involved. TVNZ observed:

We note there are innumerable precedents for this sort of reporting. It is not, as Mr Le Comte implies, a ratings-driven innovation. …

Those pictures … shown on One Network News on 15th July, celebrate a spirit of altruism in humankind which all too often is submerged amid reporting of the more distressing and unappealing aspects of life which necessarily form a major part of news output.

TVNZ assessed the complaint against each of the privacy principles applied by the Authority. As the item was filmed in a public place, did not reveal any offensive facts, and did not ridicule the young girl, it declined to uphold the privacy complaint. TVNZ contended:

We advise the Authority that we have heard nothing to suggest that any of the family involved in this event were in any way upset by TVNZ’s use of the pictures. The newspaper clippings enclosed imply that they were delighted that the firemen were receiving the public kudos that flowed from the publicity given to the event.

In his final comment, Mr Le Comte congratulated TVNZ as its main point had been to show the bravery of the firefighters. However, he did not accept that it was necessary to "use images of a young child in obvious distress and pain". Moreover, he objected to the item’s invasion of the child’s privacy at a vulnerable moment.

The Authority’s Findings

The Authority notes TVNZ’s point that the purpose of the item was to "celebrate the spirit of altruism", and Mr Le Comte’s agreement that this purpose was praiseworthy. However, Mr Le Comte considered that the celebration was undermined by what he described as "journalistic voyeurism" because it showed pictures of the unconscious child. He contended that these pictures invaded the child’s privacy.

The Authority has developed seven Privacy Principles which it applies when determining privacy complaints. Principles (i) and (iii) are relevant to the current complaint, and they provide:

i) The protection of privacy includes protection against the public disclosure of private facts where the facts disclosed are highly offensive and objectionable to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities.

iii) There is a separate ground for a complaint, in addition to a complaint for the public disclosure of private and public facts, in factual situations involving the intentional interference (in the nature of prying) with an individual's interest in solitude or seclusion. The intrusion must be offensive to the ordinary person but an individual's interest in solitude or seclusion does not provide the basis for a privacy action for an individual to complain about being observed or followed or photographed in a public place.

For a breach of privacy to occur under principle (i) "highly offensive and objectionable" private facts must have been disclosed. The Authority does not accept that the threshold was met here. Although the images showed a very distressed child, that footage was relatively fleeting, and served to illustrate an essential point of this news story. The manner of reporting was neither objectionable nor highly offensive.

As for principle (iii), notwithstanding that the filming occurred in a public place, there may still be a breach of privacy if there is an offensive or objectionable intrusion in the nature of prying into a matter which is essentially private. That was not the case here. In the Authority’s view, the footage was neither offensive nor intrusive, nor did the filming involve an essentially private matter.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
7 October 1999

Appendix

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

1. Paul Le Comte’s Privacy Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority –
   16 July 1999

2. Television New Zealand Ltd’s Report to the Broadcasting Standards Authority –
   10 August 1999

3. Mr Le Comte’s Final Comment – 23 August 1999