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de Villiers and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-089

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Alex de Villiers of Te Awamutu

Dated

25th November 2008

Number

2008-089

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item reported that emails between employees were crucial evidence in the prosecution case of the founder of a failed finance company – six email addresses were shown on screen – allegedly in breach of privacy

Findings
Standard 3 (privacy) – no identifiable individuals linked to email addresses – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 9 August 2008, reported that “a series of emails between Bridgecorp employees has become crucial evidence in the prosecution case against the finance company’s founder”. Bridgecorp’s former executive directors had allegedly raised millions of dollars from investors knowing that the company was in default. A One News reporter interviewed a number of forensic experts from Price Waterhouse Coopers who were responsible for investigating the company’s computer records. The reporter briefly described the equipment they used, before saying:

But it’s the emails that are now crucial to solving crimes, ranging from fraud to drug dealing and murder. Type some key words into a character recognition programme and you can quickly identify who’s been talking to who.

[2]   As the reporter said this, the camera panned across a computer screen to show a chart containing a variety of email addresses. Six addresses were fully visible on screen.

Referral to the Authority

[3]   Alex de Villiers lodged a direct privacy complaint with the Authority under section 8(1A) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, alleging that TVNZ had breached standards of privacy because email addresses were shown in the item.

Standards

[4]   Mr de Villiers nominated Standard 3 and Privacy Principle 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. They provide:

Standard 3 Privacy

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the privacy of the individual.

Privacy Principle 4

The protection of privacy includes the protection against the disclosure by the broadcaster, without consent, of the name and/or address and/or telephone number of an identifiable individual, in circumstances where the disclosure is highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[5]   TVNZ maintained that the shot of the computer screen showing email addresses was a “mock-up” shown to the reporter by the Price Waterhouse Coopers Forensic Services team. PWC was aware that this screen-shot would be included in the item, and assured TVNZ staff that the email addresses were part of their demonstration reels to illustrate the character-recognition software described in the item.

[6]   The broadcaster stated that a TVNZ staff member had investigated the validity of the email addresses shown in the item, and had found that only one was a real address. TVNZ argued that the inclusion of that email address in the PWC demonstration reel was “not deliberate or sinister”. It said that the email address was unrelated to the story and there was no suggestion in the item of any wrongdoing by the owner of the email address.

[7]   TVNZ concluded that the inclusion of email addresses in the item for the purpose of illustrating the specific software being discussed did not constitute a breach of privacy, and that the brief disclosure on screen of one valid email address would not be considered highly offensive by an objective reasonable person. It declined to uphold the privacy complaint.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[8]   Mr de Villiers accepted that TVNZ had not intended to breach someone’s privacy. However, one of the email addresses could have been a personal address, he said, and the owner may have chosen not to respond to TVNZ’s staff member for reasons of privacy. He considered that in future such details should be blurred on screen.

[9]   Further, the complainant argued that, while the item did not suggest that the emails were part of the investigation, it also did not suggest that they were not involved.

Authority's Determination

[10]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[11]   Mr de Villiers argued that the broadcaster had breached the privacy of the owners of the email addresses shown in the item. He nominated privacy principle 4, which protects against the disclosure by the broadcaster, without consent, of the name and/or address and/or telephone number of an identifiable individual, in circumstances where the disclosure is highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

[12]   In the broadcast complained about, six email addresses were shown on screen. TVNZ stated, and the Authority accepts, that only one of these was a valid email address. However, under privacy principle 4, the address would have to be linked to an “identifiable individual” before the broadcast could be said to have breached the privacy standard.

[13]   The owner of that email address, in the Authority’s view, was not “identifiable” in the broadcast complained about. The broadcast was not concerned with the owner of the email address; it was displayed at random to illustrate the techniques used by forensic experts. The owner of the email address was not named or referred to. Accordingly, the Authority considers that privacy principle 4 does not apply.

[14]   For the record, the Authority notes that privacy principle 4 was developed to prevent the broadcast of a person’s details in circumstances where they are disclosed for the purposes of encouraging harassment of that person by members of the public. This was clearly not the case here.

[15]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 3 (privacy).

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
25 November 2008

Appendix

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

1.           Alex de Villiers’ referral to the Authority – 9 August 2008
2.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 15 September 2008
3.          Mr de Villiers’ final comment – 26 September 2008
4.          TVNZ’s response to the complainant’s final comment – 8 October 2008