Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – two “coming up” promos and opening segment of One News reported that an actor had been “gunned down” by police – allegedly inaccurate and unfair
Standard 5 (accuracy) – use of the term "gunned down" not misleading – not upheld
Standard 6 (fairness) – police representative was given opportunity to explain why the shooting occurred – police treated fairly – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 A “coming up” promo for One News was broadcast at 5.41pm on Thursday 27 July 2009. The promo included a brief report which stated:
Coming up on tonight’s One News, an actor is gunned down by police in a suburban Auckland street.
 A second promo for the news was broadcast at 5.51pm that night, which included the following statement:
Coming up on One News, an actor is gunned down by police in a suburban street. We’ll take you live to where it happened.
 The opening segment of One News introduced the item with the presenter stating:
Tonight, an actor who’s played a soldier in the Māori Battalion is gunned down. We reveal more about the suburban shooting.
 As the main item on the shooting was introduced, the presenter said:
A police shooting in an Auckland suburb, it’s left an actor in a serious condition in hospital. A friend has told One News [man’s name] is the man who’s been gunned down.
 The item crossed live to a reporter who stated:
Well, the cordons here remain in place five hours after this quiet suburban street turned into the scene of a police shooting.
 Footage was then shown of emergency workers assisting the man who had been shot and who was lying injured on the ground.
 The item included an interview with Police Superintendant George Fraser, the Auckland District Commander, who explained that police had responded to a 111 call from a person who had serious concerns about the likelihood of violence occurring. He went on to say that, after police had arrived and withdrawn to maintain observation, an armed man had approached them.
 The reporter explained that the man had approached police with a meat cleaver and two knives and that he had been shot once in the upper body. Footage was shown of the man lying on a stretcher and being put into the back of an ambulance. As this footage was shown, the reporter said that he had been taken to hospital and was in a serious condition.
 Paula Stevens made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the use of the term “gunned down” in the promos and the news item’s introduction was misleading and unfair to police.
 The complainant stated that she objected to the use of the term “gunned down”, because she considered it was associated with situations where a person was killed or seriously injured in circumstances where they were unable to defend themselves and shot without provocation or were shot “without legal justification”.
 Ms Stevens contended that the use of the term “gunned down” was misleading, emotive and gave the impression that the person was shot without any justification or warning.
 The complainant argued that the term did not accurately describe the incident and was unfair on police because it inferred that the police were the “offenders”.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:
Standard 5 Accuracy
Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:
- is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or
- does not mislead.
Standard 6 Fairness
Broadcasters should deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
 With respect to accuracy, TVNZ contended that the term “gunned down” was widely used in the media and usually referred to the fact that an armed person had been shot down while standing or moving. It argued that the term did not just refer to “wrongful shootings”.
 The broadcaster stated that the term had not been used for emotive or dramatic effect, but was “simply used to describe the events that took place that day in a concise manner, so that they would be understood by the viewer”.
 TVNZ stated that, because of their brevity, the “coming up at six” bulletins used headline-style language to quickly sum up the news story. It argued that the use of the term was shorthand and did not make the promos misleading.
 The broadcaster contended that there was sufficient material in the full One News bulletin to prevent viewers being misled into believing that the man had been shot without justification, including the fact that he had approached police while armed. It declined to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.
 Turning to Standard 6, TVNZ reiterated that the term “gunned down” was used as a shorthand way of describing the situation. It contended that the language used in the item did not reflect any prejudice against the police and that the term did not imply any wrongdoing by the officers involved.
 The broadcaster pointed out that the police were given an opportunity to present their perspective and “clearly articulated that the offender was armed and that the shooting was in response to him being armed”. It declined to uphold the complaint that the promos or the opening segment had breached Standard 6.
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Stevens referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 The Authority disagrees with Ms Stevens’ contention that the term “gunned down” relates solely to unjustified shootings. It considers that the term is a legitimate form of shorthand to describe a variety of situations where a person has been shot and then fallen to the ground. In relation to the complainant’s concern that the term implied that the police were the “offenders”, the Authority notes that the item explained that police had shot the man in response to him coming towards them while holding weapons in his hands.
 As a result, the Authority finds that the use of the term in the promos and the item’s opening segment would not have misled viewers and it declines to uphold the accuracy complaint.
 The complainant argued that the use of the term “gunned down” was unfair to police because it had inferred that the police were unjustified in their actions. The Authority disagrees.
 As stated above under accuracy, the Authority considers that the term was a legitimate form of shorthand to describe a situation where a person had been shot and then fallen to the ground. It notes that a police representative was given the opportunity to present their perspective on the incident and it agrees with TVNZ that the Auckland District Commander clearly articulated the reasons why the man was shot by police.
 Accordingly, the Authority concludes that the police were treated fairly and it declines to uphold the complaint that the broadcaster breached Standard 6.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
15 February 2010
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Paula Stevens’ formal complaint – 28 July 2009
2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 25 August 2009
3. Ms Stevens’ referral to the Authority – 22 September 2009
4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 1 December 2009