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Hegarty and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2006-009

Members

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

Complainant

  • Noreen Hegarty of The New Zealand Police Force of Auckland

Dated

18th May 2006

Number

2006-009

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

CanWest TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News and Nightline – item about security camera outside apartment in Auckland – owners concerned that camera would capture images inside their home – item said the Police had assured them that camera was broken, and once fixed any images would be pixellated – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – item did not discuss issue of controversial public importance – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – one statement misleading – upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – item dealt justly and fairly with the Police – not upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] On TV3 at 6pm on 30 November 2005, an item was broadcast on 3 News about a security camera positioned outside the apartment of an Auckland couple. The couple explained that they had spoken to the Police, but still felt uncomfortable about the position of the camera. The reporter introduced the item by saying:

What are the chances of your everyday chores in the privacy of your own home being recorded and watched by a security camera? Quite high for one Auckland couple.

[2] The item stated that the Police had told 3 News that the camera had been broken for almost four months, and that it was highly unlikely that any privacy regulations had been breached. The reporter said:

[Police] say once the camera’s fixed they’ll pixellate the footage or somehow block out their apartment but haven’t confirmed when that’ll be done.

[3] The reporter concluded the item by saying that until the couple knew what was happening with the camera “there’ll be no relaxing here”.

[4] The item was repeated that evening at 10.30pm on TV3’s Nightline programme.

Complaint

[5] On behalf of the Auckland City Police, Noreen Hegarty lodged a formal complaint about the item with CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster. Ms Hegarty argued that the item had breached standards of balance, accuracy and fairness.

[6] The complainant submitted that the item had been scripted so that, until well into the story, viewers would be left with the following misleading impressions:

  • that the camera was operating
  • that it belonged to the Police
  • that it was positioned so as to be able to capture images from the private property of the concerned couple
  • that the Police who had dealt with the couple were not altogether honest about the capabilities of the camera.

[7] Ms Hegarty noted that the camera was broken and had not been working for some time. Further, the camera belonged to the Auckland City Council and was not Police property. Importantly, she said, the camera was not able to capture images from inside private property.

[8] Ms Hegarty stated that all of these facts had been explained to the couple by a senior Police officer on more than two occasions in the last few months. She added that the officer had also invited the couple to the Police station to see for themselves that nothing from that camera site was being filmed or monitored at the station.

[9] The complainant said that she had told the 3 News reporter that the camera was not working, that it did not have the capability to record images from inside the couple’s home, and that it was not Police property. Having done so, the Police then declined an opportunity to be interviewed for the item because they felt that there was little chance that the story would have the credibility to go to air.

[10] Ms Hegarty was concerned about the introduction to the item on Nightline, which she recalled as saying “if you think you’re being watched, you are”. This was deceptive, she said. In addition, the reporter’s final comment that “until they know what’s happening with the camera, there’ll be no relaxing here” was “mischievous and misleading”. Ms Hegarty said:

The couple, and the reporter, had had the situation of the camera clearly explained to them on several occasions, so to suggest otherwise was tantamount to questioning the honesty of the Police staff they had spoken to. I find that offensive.

Standards

[11] CanWest assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[12] With respect to Standard 4 (balance), CanWest noted that the standard only applied to “controversial issues of public importance”. It contended that camera coverage of public areas was interesting to the public, but it did not fall into the category of issues to which the balance standard was directed.

[13] Considering Standard 5 (accuracy), CanWest dealt with each of the complainant’s concerns individually.

Was the camera operational?

[14] The broadcaster felt it was made clear in the item that the camera had “been broken for almost four months”. It was also clear that the issue for the couple was not whether or not the camera was working – the story script said “they don’t know if the camera’s on, but its left them feeling rather awkward”.

[15] The item reported the couple’s concern that activities within their home might be able to be captured by the camera, and stated that the Police had offered to pixellate any private footage. The broadcaster did not consider that the story was inaccurate in this respect, or that viewers would have been misled.

Ownership of the camera

[16] CanWest pointed out that there was no statement in the item which attributed ownership of the camera to the Police. The Police were mentioned because the couple had complained to them about the operation of the camera, and the Police had provided information about the operational status of the camera and the use of the footage. This, the broadcaster submitted, suggested involvement with the operation of the camera, but not ownership.

[17] The broadcaster considered that it was accurate for the story to portray the Police as having involvement with, and information about, the camera’s operation.

Honesty of Police response

[18] CanWest observed that the only statement in the story that directly characterised the police response was from one of the homeowners, who said “so I spoke to the police about it…the police were quite reasonable but I am still not convinced that we have the privacy we should have”. This did not suggest that the police response had been less than candid, it said, only that the man was not reassured because pixellation could be “turned off” and images could find their way onto the internet.

[19] The broadcaster did not consider that the story was inaccurate. In any event, it said, the man’s statement was clearly an expression of his point of view, and viewers would have appreciated this.

Closing line

[20] CanWest considered that the reporter’s final comment did not breach the accuracy standard. Rather, it was an accurate reflection of the couple’s uncertainties about the camera and its operation.

[21] The broadcaster found that there had been no breach of Standard 5.

[22] Turning to consider Standard 6 (fairness), CanWest found that the story was not unfair or unjust to the Police. It was clear that the Police had responded reasonably to the couple’s concerns, and had explained the position to the reporter who had made enquiries. The Police response had been accurately summarised for viewers, it said. Accordingly, the broadcaster concluded that Standard 6 was not breached.

Referral to the Authority

[23] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Hegarty referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. With respect to Standard 4 (balance), the complainant noted CanWest’s submission that the issue under discussion was not one of public importance. She said:

If that is the case, why then did TV3 lead their 10.30pm Nightline bulletin with the item?

[24] Turning to accuracy, Ms Hegarty argued that the story implied that if the camera was operational, it would definitely capture images from within the couple’s home. This was at odds with the statement given by the Police to the reporter, which was that “in the highly unlikely event that footage from within the apartment was ever recorded, the Police would pixellate any images obtained”. The item was misleading in this respect, she said.

[25] Ms Hegarty accepted that there was no statement in the story that attributed ownership of the camera to the Police, but she noted that there was also no statement in the story saying that the camera did not belong to the Police. She contended that the item strongly implied that the camera belonged to the Police by inferring that the Police was the only authority that might have something to say about its operability.

[26] The complainant maintained that the item implied that the couple were being misled by the Police about the operability and capability of the camera. The script would have led viewers to conclude that the Police had not been entirely honest with the occupants and the reporter, she said.

[27] With respect to CanWest’s finding about the closing line of the story – that it reflected the couple’s uncertainties – Ms Hegarty reiterated her view that the statement was misleading and inaccurate. While the couple believed there was ambiguity around the camera’s operations, the Police were in no doubt – and had reassured all concerned – that it could not and would not obtain images from inside their home.

[28] Considering Standard 6 (fairness), Ms Hegarty submitted that the item’s introduction set the tone of the story to follow, and did not deal justly or fairly with the Police. It had been revealed by TV3 that they had filmed the couple involved in the story well in advance of going to air. In contrast, she said:

[29] Police were contacted the day it went to air and, while it’s true we declined the invitation to be interviewed on camera, that decision was made in the context of having been told by the reporter that she’d check with her producers to see whether or not the story would in fact make it to air. She never contacted me to advise either way.

Authority's Determination

[30] 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.

Standard 4 (balance)

[31] Standard 4 requires that balance be provided when controversial issues of public importance are discussed. The Authority considers that the balance standard could apply to a broader discussion about the position of security cameras in general. However, this item focused on one couple’s concerns about the position and capabilities of a particular security camera outside their home.

[32] Because the focus of the item was limited to the couple’s concerns, and not a wider issue of concern to the general public, the Authority finds that it did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance for the purposes of the balance standard. Accordingly, the Authority does not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[33] The complainant identified several alleged factual inaccuracies in the item. The Authority has dealt with each allegation in turn.

The item left the misleading impression that the camera was operating

[34] The Authority notes that the reporter in the item made the following statements about the camera:

  • “they don’t know if the camera’s on, but it’s left them feeling rather awkward”
  • “Police…say the security camera has been broken for almost four months”

[35] The complainant has advised the Authority that the couple had been told that the camera was broken. In these circumstances, the Authority agrees that the first statement in the item was misleading. However, the Authority finds that the second statement made it clear that the camera was not currently operating. Because the overall impression left by the item was accurate in this respect, the Authority declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

The item left the inaccurate impression that the camera belonged to Police

[36] The Authority agrees with CanWest that there was no statement in the item which attributed ownership of the camera to the Police. Further, in the Authority’s view, no specific impression was left by the item about who owned the camera. The Authority notes that the story focussed on the operation and capabilities of the camera, not its ownership.

[37] Under these circumstances, the Authority declines to uphold this part of the complaint on the grounds that the question of who owned the camera was not material to the item complained about.

The item implied that the camera was positioned so as to be able to capture images from the couple’s home

[38] The complainant submitted that the item left the impression that the camera, once it was fixed, could capture images from the couple’s home. The Authority agrees. However, it considers that the impression left by the item is supported, at least in part, by the official response given to the reporter by the Police. The complainant stated that the Police gave TV3 the following statement (which was not broadcast):

In the highly unlikely event that footage from within the apartment was ever recorded, the Police would pixellate any images obtained.

[39] This statement leaves open the possibility that images would be captured, even if that possibility was “highly unlikely”. As a result, the Authority finds that this response from the Police contributed to the reporter’s understanding of the situation.

[40] However, the Authority shares the complainant’s concern about the reporter’s statement that “[Police] say once the camera’s fixed they’ll pixellate the footage or somehow block out their apartment”.

[41] In the Authority’s view, this statement implied that the Police had told 3 News that the camera would definitely film inside the couple’s home once it was fixed. In fact, the Police had said that the camera was not positioned to film inside the couple’s home, and thus it was “highly unlikely” to capture any images of the apartment. Accordingly, there was a clear discrepancy between what the Police had said and what the reporter stated in the item.

[42] In these circumstances, the Authority finds that the reporter’s statement would have misled viewers about what the Police had said about the camera’s capabilities. It therefore upholds this part of the accuracy complaint.

The closing line in the report left the impression that Police who had dealt with the couple were not altogether honest about the capabilities of the camera

[43] The complainant argued that the closing line in the report – “until they know what’s happening with the camera, there’ll be no relaxing here” – implied that the Police had not told the couple what the true situation was with the camera. She contended that the Police had explained it to the couple several times.

[44] However, the Authority agrees with CanWest that the statement presented an accurate reflection of the couple’s uncertainties about the capabilities of the camera. It finds that their uncertainty was understandable given that the response from the Police did not actually remove the possibility that the camera might be able to capture images from their home.

[45] In these circumstances, the Authority considers that the closing line of the report did not breach Standard 5.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[46] In respect of Standard 6, the complainant argued that the Police were treated unfairly in the item. The Authority does not agree. It notes that the item reported that the Police were “quite reasonable” and “seemed concerned” when dealing with the couple.

[47] The Authority finds that the couple were entitled to express their concerns about their privacy, as the rights of individuals to express their opinions is expressly provided for by guideline 6d to Standard 6. Further, the Authority reiterates its finding that their concerns can be explained, at least in part, by the official Police response.

[48] Overall, the Authority considers that the item did not leave a negative impression about the Police, or how they had dealt with the matter. It declines to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Bill of Rights

[49] For the avoidance of doubt, the Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and has taken into account all the circumstances of the complaints in reaching its determination to uphold one aspect of the complaints and not to impose an order. For the reasons given above, the Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

For the above reasons the Authority upholds one aspect of the complaint that the broadcast by CanWest TVWorks Ltd of an item on 3 News and Nightline on 30 November 2005 breached Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[50] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The Authority does not intend to impose an order on this occasion.

[51] While finding that one statement in the item was misleading, the Authority considers that the breach was not sufficiently serious to justify an order. In reaching this decision, the Authority reiterates its finding that the official response from the Police to the reporter may have contributed to the impression left by the item.

[52] In these circumstances, the Authority finds that the public release of its decision is sufficient.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
18 May 2006

Appendix

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

  1. Ms Hegarty’s formal complaint – 22 December 2005
  2. CanWest’s decision on the formal complaint – 14 February 2006
  3. Ms Hegarty’s referral to the Authority – 21 February 2006
  4. CanWest’s response to the Authority – 28 February 2006