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McDonald and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-127

Members

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

Complainant

  • Donald McDonald of Wellington

Dated

17th February 2009

Number

2008-127

Programme

One News Tonight

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News Tonight – item reported on an Auckland homicide – allegedly in breach of privacy

Findings
Standard 3 (privacy) – decline to determine in all the circumstances under section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] An item on One News Tonight, broadcast on TV One at 10.30pm on 26 September 2008, reported that a man had been stabbed and killed in Auckland. In the first part of the item, a reporter stated that, "[The victim’s] family arrive at the murder scene today, facing the tragic loss of a loved one", accompanied by a shot of three men peering into an area covered by a tarpaulin. The reporter also quoted a sympathy card left at the crime scene, saying, "What a tragic waste of a fine life... the country will be a lot worse without heroes like [the victim]".

[2] The second part of the item consisted of an interview with a witness who had retrieved the victim's cell phone and used it to inform the victim's family that he had been stabbed.

Complaint

[3] Donald McDonald sent an email to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, stating that he was making a formal complaint about the item.

Request from the Broadcaster

[4] TVNZ emailed Mr McDonald requesting clarification of the grounds on which he was making a complaint that the item breached broadcasting standards.

[5] In response, Mr McDonald referred to "code privacy", and argued that the reporter’s reference to a "wasted life" implied that the victim was not a valued member of society. He considered the item was "too invasive, insensitive, sensationalism".

Standards

[6] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 3 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 3 Privacy
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the privacy of the individual.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7] The broadcaster argued that the defence in the Authority’s privacy principle 8 applied. That principle states that "disclosing the matter in the ’public interest’, defined as of legitimate concern or interest to the public, is a defence to a privacy complaint". TVNZ said that a man was killed in broad daylight on a busy central Auckland street at the end of a working day, and that this was of considerable public interest.

[8] TVNZ acknowledged that sensitivity was required when reporting on bereavement, but considered that the coverage of the homicide was not gratuitous and was handled with sensitivity. Further, it disagreed with the complainant that the reporter’s comment regarding a "wasted life" carried any connotation that the victim was not a valued member of society. The reporter was quoting from sympathy cards left at the crime scene, saying "what a tragic waste of a fine life and the country will be a lot worse without heroes like [the victim]". The clear sentiment was the tragedy of the man’s death, TVNZ wrote.

[9] The broadcaster concluded the item did not breach anyone’s privacy and declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[10] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr McDonald referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He argued that the item was sensationalised and not handled appropriately, and disagreed with TVNZ that the story was of considerable public interest.

Authority's Determination

[11] 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.

[12] The Authority notes that TVNZ offered Mr McDonald an opportunity to clarify the grounds upon which he was making a complaint, but considers that it is still unclear whose privacy he considers was breached, or which aspects of the item he believes breached broadcasting standards. In the circumstances, the Authority considers that TVNZ would have been justified in dealing with the complaint informally, rather than invoking the formal complaints process.

[13] As it does not consider that Mr McDonald made a valid formal complaint, the Authority declines to determine the complaint under section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
17 February 2009

Appendix

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

1.  Donald McDonald’s formal complaint – 27 September 2008
2. TVNZ’s request for clarification of standards raised – 9 October 2008
3. Mr McDonald’s response to TVNZ – 12 October 2008
4. TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 7 November 2008
5. Mr McDonald’s referral to the Authority – 14 November 2008
6. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 1 December 2008