3 News – item about bad weather featured car accident footage – woman passenger shown injured – unnecessary intrusion into woman’s distress – graphic footage gratuitous
(1) Standard G17 – footage not unnecessarily intrusive – no uphold
(2) Standard V12 – material insufficiently graphic – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Footage of a car accident was shown during a news items about bad weather and related problems faced by drivers in the Queenstown area. A woman passenger was shown emerging from the crashed car bleeding from a head wound. The item was broadcast on 3 News on TV3 on 11 June 2000 between 6.00pm and 7.00pm.
Lindsay Renwick complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item intruded unnecessarily into the distress of the woman passenger, and that the "graphic footage of the injured woman" shown was gratuitous.
TV3 responded that the footage broadcast of the passenger had been brief and had highlighted the road safety message of the item. It did not accept that it had intruded unnecessarily into the passenger’s distress or that the footage was gratuitous. Nor did it consider that viewers would find the footage violent or distressing. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TV3’s decision, Ms Renwick referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
Footage of a car accident was shown during a news items about bad weather and related problems faced by drivers in the Queenstown area. A woman passenger was shown emerging from the crashed car and bleeding from a head wound. The item was broadcast on 3 News on TV3 on 11 June 2000 between 6.00pm and 7.00pm.
Lindsay Renwick complained to TV3 that the item intruded unnecessarily into the distress of the woman passenger, and that the "graphic footage of the injured woman" shown was gratuitous. She described the woman passenger as "dazed and bloodied". She also observed that the passenger had turned to the camera and raised her hand "in a gesture that seemed to indicate that she did not wish to be filmed". According to Ms Renwick, the footage, including the shots of the victim, had been repeated three times. She considered that the repetition was "offensive, flippant and gratuitous".
TV3 assessed the complaint under standards G17 and V12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, as those standards had been nominated by Ms Renwick. They provide:
G17 Unnecessary intrusion into the grief and distress of victims and their families or friends must be avoided. Funeral coverage should reflect sensitivity and understanding for the feelings and privacy of the bereaved.
Broadcasters must avoid causing unwarranted distress by showing library tape of bodies or human remains which could cause distress to surviving family members. Where possible, family members should be consulted before the material is used. This standard is not intended to prevent the use of material which adds significantly to public understanding of an issue which is in the public arena and interest.
V12 The treatment in news, current affairs and documentary programmes of violent and distressing material calls for careful editorial discernment as to the extent of graphic detail carried. Should the use of violent and distressing material be considered relevant and essential to the proper understanding of the incident or event being portrayed, an appropriate prior warning must be considered.
Particular care must be taken with graphic material which portrays especially disturbing images, such as
Material shown in late evening may be more graphic than that shown during general viewing times.
- ill-treatment of people or animals
- close-ups of dead and mutilated bodies of people or animals
- views of people in extreme pain or distress, or at the moment of death
- violence directed at children or children in distress
TV3 dealt first with standard G17. It advised that the footage of the woman passenger had been retained in the item to illustrate the need for care on winter roads, and to show viewers the serious consequences that can occur when a driver loses control of a car in such conditions. In TV3’s view, the footage was not gratuitous.
TV3 also submitted that:
Recording the events as they occurred did not on this occasion cause unnecessary distress to the passenger. Her distress was primarily caused by the accident.
TV3 conceded that the footage broadcast of the injured woman was close to the boundary of acceptability under standard G17, but declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint given the brevity, context and message of the item.
As to standard V12, TV3 maintained that it was not relevant. It considered that the material, of itself, was not violent or distressing in the way anticipated by the standard, explaining that while "the events were distressing to those involved, to the average viewer they would be unlikely to cause distress".
As a final point, TV3 commented on the repetition of the footage during 3 News. It agreed that the footage had been repeated, but explained that the footage of the injured passenger was only shown twice. It advised that repetition of main stories was common network practice, and that it did not consider that the repetition was "offensive, flippant and gratuitous" as alleged by Ms Renwick.
In her referral of the complaint to the Authority, Ms Renwick made the following additional points. First, she submitted that TV3 had misinterpreted standard G17 as it had suggested that it did not apply as it was the car accident which was the cause of the injured woman’s distress and not the filming. In her view, the cause of the distress was irrelevant. In any event, Ms Renwick submitted that the woman had seemed to be upset by the filming.
Secondly, Ms Renwick disagreed that an "average viewer" would not find the material she had complained about violent and distressing.
As her final point, Ms Renwick submitted that TV3 had overstepped the boundary of acceptability under standard G17.
The Authority deals first with standard G17. Its task is to consider whether the footage broadcast unnecessarily intruded upon the woman passenger’s distress. The Authority observes that the footage showed the woman bleeding from an obvious though apparently superficial head injury, and that it was clear that the woman had expressed her wish not to be filmed. While the Authority considers that the woman’s distress was intruded upon by the filming and broadcast of the footage which was obtained, on balance it does not consider that the intrusion was unnecessary. In a previous decision about the same footage (Decision No 2000-141–143) the Authority found that TV3 was justified in drawing attention to road safety by the use of the footage. Accordingly, the Authority concludes that standard G17 was not breached.
As to standard V12, the Authority considers that this standard is intended to cover the broadcast of graphic violence. In this case, the material was distressing, and would have been particularly distressing to the victim. But the standard requires that broadcasters exercise "careful editorial discernment as to the extent of graphic detail required", and provides that the use of such material must be considered "relevant and essential to the proper understanding of the incident or event being portrayed". In the Authority’s view, the broadcaster exercised its editorial discernment by editing the footage before broadcast, and by including only a brief shot of the woman victim. The Authority accepts that in the context of an item about road safety, the material was relevant and did not overstep the bounds of broadcasting standards. It declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
12 October 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Lindsay Renwick’s Formal Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 15 June 2000
2. TV3’s Response to Formal Complaint – 17 July 2000
3. Ms Renwick’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 30 July 2000
4. TV3’s Response to the Referral – 23 August 2000