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McGill and Farr and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-005

Members

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

Complainants

  • Anne-Thea McGill of Auckland
  • Kim Farr of Auckland

Dated

31st March 2005

Number

2005-005

Programme

Close Up @ 7

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up @ 7 – item discussing the noise levels at a speedway in Auckland – showed the names of those who had presented a petition to the Environment Court – allegedly in breach of privacy

Findings
Standard 3 (privacy) – signatures on a petition not private facts – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] Recent controversy about the noise levels at the Western Springs Speedway in Auckland was discussed on Close Up @ 7 on TV One at 7pm on 17 December 2004. The item included a studio discussion with a member of the local residents’ group that had petitioned to get the noise levels reduced, and an Auckland City Councillor.

[2] The item began by showing the signatures of those whose petition over the noise levels had been presented to the Environment Court.

Complaint

[3] Anne-Thea McGill and Kim Farr complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item breached standards of law and order, privacy, balance and fairness. Only the privacy aspect of their complaint was referred to the Authority and therefore it is the only aspect outlined in this decision.

[4] The complainants alleged that by broadcasting a list of local residents who had signed the petition, the broadcaster had breached the privacy of those residents. In particular, the complainants asserted that Privacy Principle (iv) had been breached.

Standards

[5] Standard 3 and Guideline 3a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice and Privacy Principles (iv) and (vii) are relevant to the determination of this 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.

Guideline 3a

Broadcasters must comply with the privacy principles developed by the Broadcasting Standards Authority (Appendix 2).

Privacy Principles

iv)  The protection of privacy also protects against the disclosure of private facts to abuse, denigrate or ridicule personally an identifiable person. This principle is of particular relevance should a broadcaster use the airwaves to deal with a private dispute. However, the existence of a prior relationship between the broadcaster and the named individual is not an essential criterion.

vii)  An individual who consents to the invasion of his or her privacy, cannot later succeed in a claim for a breach of privacy. Children’s vulnerability must be a prime concern to broadcasters. When consent is given by the child, or by a parent or someone in loco parentis, broadcasters shall satisfy themselves that the broadcast is in the best interest of the child.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6] TVNZ found that there had been no breach of the complainants’ privacy. It said:

The act of putting one’s name on a petition is a public one; by linking one’s name and appending a signature to a petition a person is saying to his or her fellow citizens – “this is what I support, and to emphasise that I am putting my name to it”.

[7] The broadcaster contended that Privacy Principle (vii) was relevant on this occasion, and argued that the act of signing a public petition amounted to a consent for the invasion of privacy.

Referral to the Authority

[8] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, the complainants referred the privacy aspect of their complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The complainants did not elaborate on their original complaint to the broadcaster.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9] TVNZ added nothing further to its original reply to the complainants.

Authority's Determination

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

[11] The complainants have alleged that their privacy was breached when their names were screened on Close Up @ 7. In order for there to have been a breach of Standard 3 (privacy) on this occasion, there must have been a disclosure of “private facts”. In the Authority’s view, a signature on a public petition cannot be regarded as a private fact. The petitioners had affixed their names to a document as a public statement of their support for a course of action.

[12] While the complainants may have felt that they were “singled out” by the broadcast and exposed to criticism, the Authority considers that there can be no expectation of privacy in appending one’s signature to a public petition.

[13] Accordingly, the Authority finds that TVNZ did not breach Standard 3 (privacy) on this occasion.

 

For the above reasons the complaint is not upheld.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
31 March 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Anne-Thea McGill and Kim Farr’s formal complaint – 24 January 2005
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 3 February 2005
  3. Ms McGill and Ms Farr’s referral to the Authority – 8 February 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 16 February 2005