Earth Report – documentary – BBC World – child’s nudity – breach of privacy
Privacy – child not exploited – nudity not sexualised – decline to determine
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Highlights from Earth Report broadcast on 5 September at 12.35pm on TV One examined the present circumstances of two children born in 1992, the year the UN Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro. One of the children featured was from China and the other from a nomadic herding tribe in Northern Kenya. The programme included a shot of the Kenyan boy being bathed.
Craig McDowall complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.4(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act that the Kenyan child’s privacy was breached when he was filmed fully naked. He suggested that if the line was not drawn to prevent this material being broadcast, paedophiles would have found "another loophole" to exploit children. In his view, the child’s sexuality had not been respected.
TVNZ responded that it strongly disagreed with Mr McDowall’s assertion that the footage had exploited the child. It did not accept that it had impinged on the boy’s privacy and dignity.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to determine 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 adjudicates on the complaint without holding a formal hearing.
Earth Report is a regular production of BBC World, and highlights are recorded and rebroadcast on TV One following the midday news. The edition broadcast on 5 September 2000 beginning at 12.35pm examined the present circumstances of two children who were born in 1992, the year of the United Nations Earth Summit which was held in Rio de Janeiro. One of the two children was the daughter of a Chinese couple who were restricted by law to having one child. The other, from a nomadic herding tribe in Northern Kenya, had 18 brothers and sisters. The programme included a shot of the boy being bathed by one of his family members.
Craig McDowall complained to the Authority under s.4(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 that the item "was nothing short of an orchestrated and unnecessary invasion of sexual privacy made at the boy’s expense". He considered that even if an older family member had given consent to the filming, there was no justification for it. He suggested that it was possible that family members could act irresponsibly and become a source of corruption and betrayal.
Mr McDowall suggested (hypothetically) that if the footage were of a European child, it would have been identified as child pornography and censored accordingly. He suggested that if the line were not drawn here, then:
…paedophile activity has found a loophole that can be further exploited in a way that lends increased respectability to the paedophilia movement as a whole.
In his view, a young person’s sexuality should be given the respect that it is due to them.
In responding, TVNZ expressed strong disagreement with Mr McDowall’s contentions. In its view, the bathing scene, shot against a dark background, was inexplicit and not exploitative. It added:
While the scene effectively reflects the difficulties of everyday life in rural northern Kenya, it is not such as to be voyeuristic or to impinge on the boy’s privacy or dignity. He is not humiliated by being seen in this context.
TVNZ said it rejected Mr McDowall’s suggestion that the scene would have been recognised as child pornography. It also rejected his assumption that a white boy would not be shown in similar circumstances. The purpose, it said, was to illustrate the deprivation suffered by the child and his family. It noted:
In the context of a social and environmental documentary in which the privations of violence, poverty and environmental disruption were highlighted, the colour of the child’s skin is not a factor.
TVNZ also rejected Mr McDowall’s linking of the scene with paedophilia. In its view, the scene represented childhood innocence in extremely harsh living conditions. There was no mention of sexuality, as Mr McDowall implied.
Referring to the Privacy Principles, TVNZ noted that the child was one of ten children born in 1992 whose progress was being monitored by the programme makers. Its understanding was that the process was going ahead with the consent and cooperation of the parents involved.
While TVNZ said it accepted that the circumstances in which the child lived might seem cruel, it did not consider the item would be deemed "highly objectionable" or "offensive" to an ordinary New Zealand viewer. In reference to Privacy Principle (vii), dealing with children, it submitted that it could only be in the child’s best interests to draw attention to his living conditions. It repeated that the scene did not impinge on the boy’s dignity and was not exploitative in any sense.
The Authority’s task is to assess whether the broadcast of brief footage showing an eight year old Kenyan boy being bathed breached his privacy. It observes that the scene complained about was extremely brief, and showed the boy standing as his upper body was being washed. The dark background made it difficult to discern his limbs or any other part of his body. The Authority does not agree with Mr McDowall that the footage exploited the boy or invaded his sexual privacy. From its viewing of the programme, the child was not sexualised and there was nothing gratuitous about the bathing scene. The Authority does not consider the complaint raised any issues of privacy. Accordingly, under s.11(b) of the Broadcasting Act, it declines to determine the complaint in all the circumstances.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to determine the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
9 November 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: