Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item about rescue helicopter trip to Raoul Island following volcanic eruption – one DOC worker missing – member of rescue team commented that supplies included a body bag – complaint that reference to body bag was hurtful to missing worker’s family and item allegedly in breach of good taste and decency
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – news item dealt with reality of situation – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 The organisation of a rescue team to fly to Raoul Island to search for a missing Department of Conservation staff member, following a volcanic eruption, was dealt with in an item on One News broadcast on 17 March 2006 beginning at 6.00pm. The logistics of the helicopter flight were covered as was previous volcanic activity on the island. A police officer was shown talking about the preparations for the mission, and he said:
I’ve got a first aid kit, and a body bag if necessary, and a bit of my search and rescue gear.
 Vaughan Maybury complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about the reference to the body bag. Pointing out that the staff member was at the time only known to be missing, he contended that the reference to the body bag would have been “extremely hurtful” to the staff member’s family and friends. He considered that the item breached the standard requiring good taste and decency.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which reads:
Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
 TVNZ described the police officer’s comment about the body bag, made by a person setting out on a tricky and potentially dangerous mission, as “straightforward and honest”. It stated that the staff member was listed at the time as missing, and added:
… he was carrying out experimental work at the very point where the eruption occurred and … there were grave fears for his safety.
 Noting that there was nothing flippant about the reference to the body bag, TVNZ considered the remark was appropriate in the circumstances. It declined to uphold the complaint.
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Maybury referred the complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 Mr Maybury advised that he had been shocked by the reference to the body bag. He considered it to be “unnecessarily callous and in poor taste” as the staff member’s family and friends would have been hoping that he was alive and would be rescued. He acknowledged the reference could be seen as “gritty realism” about the unpleasant job which might be necessary. However, in the interests of sensitivity for the family, he believed that the comment should have been edited out.
 In response, TVNZ argued that the “human reality” of someone missing in a volcanic eruption zone should not be “glossed over”.
 Mr Maybury acknowledged that broadcasters had a duty to report the truth “warts and all”. Nevertheless, limits were necessary and, he maintained, the reference to the body bag did not outweigh the possible hurt and suffering to the missing staff member’s family and friends.
 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.
 When the Authority considers a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. The Authority notes that the item complained about was broadcast during an unclassified news programme at 6pm.
 The complainant’s main concern was that the reference to the body bag would have been “extremely hurtful” to the missing worker’s family. The Authority acknowledges that news programmes often deal with events which are inherently distressing for people who are personally connected to a story. In this respect, broadcasters have a duty to use judgment and discretion in presenting potentially distressing aspects of the news.
 On this occasion, a police officer who was part of the rescue team advised in a matter-of-fact way that the rescue equipment included a body bag. Given the dangerous circumstances confronting the rescue trip and the missing worker, the Authority considers that the police officer’s statement simply conveyed the reality of the situation to viewers in a straight-forward manner. Accordingly, the Authority finds that the broadcast did not breach Standard 1 (good taste and decency).
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
14 August 2006
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: