Inside New Zealand – documentary about fires – suspected arson in suspected drug house – consent to film not sought from owners
Privacy – individual not identified – no private facts – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
An Inside New Zealand documentary about the cost and frequency of fires in New Zealand was broadcast on TV3 on 30 August 2000 beginning at 8.30pm. A segment dealing with arson showed what was described as a suspected drug house which had been destroyed by fire.
N, who claimed to be the owner of the property shown, complained about the programme to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. The complaint was accepted as a referral under s.8(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. In the complaint, N noted that neither she nor her husband had given consent for the broadcast. She said that she was very distraught about the matter.
In its response, TV3 argued that the complaint had not raised any issues relating to privacy or any other broadcasting standards matters. It noted that neither the address nor the owners’ names had been given but pointed out that the fact of the fire and the subsequent investigation by police and the fire service were not private facts. It declined to uphold the complaint.
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.
An Inside New Zealand documentary entitled "Burn" was broadcast on TV3 on 30 August 2000 beginning at 8.30pm. In a segment which dealt with arson, a suspected drug house which had been seriously damaged by fire was shown.
N, who claimed to be the owner of the house, complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority about the broadcast. First, she said, neither she nor her husband had given consent for their house to be used in this or in any other programme. Secondly, she noted that she and her husband had not been allowed to view the inside of the property after the fire, and they wanted to know who had given permission to show their home to the nation. N wrote:
I am very distraught about the way that everything has happened and that our claim against the Insurance company has not even been finalised with us!
The Authority referred the complaint to the broadcaster and advised that it had been accepted as a privacy complaint.
TV3 responded that it did not believe the complaint raised any issues about privacy or for that matter, any issue about broadcasting standards.
The programme, it noted, dealt with the issue of fire in New Zealand homes and businesses. Part of the programme looked at arson and, together with the Fire Service Investigating Officer, the crew had filmed a property which had been destroyed in a fire which was believed to be arson. Neither the address nor the names of the property owners had been broadcast. The fire was described as being "a suspicious fire in a suspected drug house in Otara". TV3 observed that the front of the home had been shown and would have been recognised by a small number of people. However, it added, the fact of the fire and the investigation by the fire service and police were not private facts.
With respect to the question of consent, TV3 advised that the producer of the programme had worked with the police and fire investigators to make the programme. It reported that the police had given permission to the programme-maker to enter and film the property. TV3 added that it could not comment on why the police had denied N and her husband access to the property.
In her final comment, N emphasised that her annoyance stemmed from the fact that the programme-makers had not had the "common decency" to seek permission to enter and film the house. She said that she had received a lot of comment from friends who had recognised the home and who commented on the mess shown. She wrote:
I was hurt, very tearful, highly emotional and embarrassed to see it on TV and even to this day the insurance company still have not finalised our insurance claim.
Just because no private facts like names or addresses were used, it was still humiliating to see it on TV.
N said that it was clear that no one had considered the effect the broadcast would have had on her and her husband, and she reported that she was still receiving counselling to help her get through "this traumatic media intrusion/rape of my privacy, my home, and the fact that it was shown ‘nationwide’".
N said that after having worked hard to own a home it was a shock to receive a phone call from a friend to say that it was burning down, and then to feel that everyone was blaming her for something she knew nothing about. After seeing the item on television she said that it felt as if someone was invading her privacy.
N also complained that neither the broadcaster nor the Authority had shown any cultural sensitivity in dealing with her complaint. She said that when she and her husband had first moved in to the house, a Maori priest had blessed and named it Whakamarie, meaning peaceful, and she described her anguish at not having been able to appropriately grieve for its loss. She wrote:
When was the last time you attended an opening of a new building and Maori were involved and karakia were offered to bless the whare prior to it being actually opened?
The poroporoaki for the loss of our home has not even been held and so I still grieve until I/we are allowed to enter what was once our home and to grieve for our loss.
Tauiwi will just consider it just another building with a dollar sign value attached. How do you measure grief and sorrow in dollar terms? Tauiwi have no idea!
The Authority wishes to acknowledge the complainant’s deep distress at having her home viewed on television without her consent and before she and her husband had been able to appropriately grieve for its loss.
The Authority is required to consider complaints about breaches of privacy under s.4(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 which states:
Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes and their presentation, standards which are consistent with -
(c) The privacy of the individual
Therefore, when dealing with privacy complaints, the Authority first must determine whether or not the broadcast identified an individual. If it finds an individual has been identified, the Authority’s privacy principles are then applied to determine whether a breach occurred.
In most cases, identification to only a limited number of individuals, closely connected to the person concerned, is unlikely to offend the principles. But if the identification can be made by a wider group than this, such as friends and more general acquaintances, then that will raise a potential privacy issue.
The programme complained about showed a house destroyed apparently by arson. The Authority is prepared to accept that, because it had been destroyed by fire and was in a named suburb, the house was sufficiently identifiable to people in the neighbourhood and the complainant’s close friends and family. However, the question remains whether the owners of the house were identified.
In the Authority’s view, it is unlikely that the small number of people who could have identified the house and connected it with the complainant as owner is sufficient to cross the identification threshold. In any event, even if the footage sufficiently identified the owner, the Authority is unable to find any private facts which were disclosed contrary to Privacy Principle 1 which states:
(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.
While appreciating the complainant’s concerns and the embarrassment she refers to, the existence of the home itself and the fact that it was destroyed by suspected arson are matters of public record. The fire was the subject of a public investigation and it was in the discretion of the police to release details to the broadcaster. The Authority declines to uphold the complaint that N’s privacy was breached.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
30 November 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: