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Boyce and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 2003-106

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa

Complainant

  • Simon Boyce of Kapiti Coast

Dated

18th September 2003

Number

2003-106

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TV3 Network Services Ltd


Complaint
3 News item about release from prison of paedophile to mother’s home – man identified – media waiting outside mother’s home – elderly woman shown attacking 3 News crew – unfair to woman as item did not explain events leading up to the attack – woman not allowed to express her view – TV3 did not display sensitivity in distressing situation

Findings
Standard 6 and Guidelines 6a, 6b, 6d, 6e, 6f – elderly woman not treated unfairly – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The release from prison of a paedophile to his mother’s home in Palmerston North was the subject of wide media coverage. The coverage on 3 News included some visuals of an elderly woman attacking a TV3 reporter and cameraman. It was broadcast as part of the coverage of the man’s release shown on 3 News on 4 June 2003 beginning at 6.00pm.

[2] Simon Boyce complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was unfair to the woman, that she was not allowed to express her views and that, by screening the item, TV3 had not shown sensitivity in a distressing situation.

[3] In response, TV3 explained that the woman had been given an opportunity to give an opinion, and it had taken care in reporting a difficult situation. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TV3’s decision, Mr Boyce referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] There was intense media interest following the release from prison of a convicted paedophile when he returned to live with his mother in Palmerston North. Events surrounding the release were covered in a bulletin broadcast on 3 News at 6.00pm on Wednesday 4 June 2003. As part of its coverage, TV3 showed footage of an attack by an elderly woman in the street on a TV3 reporter and camera operator.

The Complaint

[7] Simon Boyce’s complaint focussed specifically on the footage showing the attack by the woman. He wrote:

This was portrayed as unprovoked, even though the TV3 staff had obviously entered the property, a private residence, and accosted the visitor as an accomplice to the crime. Whether or not the elderly woman was from a victim support group is irrelevant. The question is why TV3 staff were instructed to "buttonhole" anyone they could associate with the identified house.

[8] Mr Boyce complained that the item breached the broadcasting standard requirement for fairness and, he said, it had contravened the following guidelines in the Code of Broadcasting Practice:

6a  by not showing the events leading up to the attack, editing had distorted the original event;

6b  by not inviting the woman to comment, viewers were not aware if she had been approached in the public interest. Further, as the public interest was not served by the item, the footage had been gained by misrepresentation and, unless TV3 had two cameras at the scene, the footage must have come from TVNZ – but this was not acknowledged;

6d  the woman’s right to express an opinion was not acknowledged; and

6e  TV3’s action aggravated the situation rather than showing discretion and sensitivity; and

6f  the rights of the man were infringed by being unnecessarily identified.

[9] Mr Boyce noted that TV3 had identified the man who was being released and that information enabled his victims to be identified. He concluded:

The truth is that TV3 created the siege in Amberley Ave, and then provoked a woman into a form of retaliation, thereby creating some good pictures for the evening news bulletin.

The Standards

[10] TV3 assessed the complaint under the standard nominated by Mr Boyce. Standard 6 of the Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice and relevant Guidelines provide:

Standard 6

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.

Guidelines

6a  Care should be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure that the extracts used are a true reflection, and not a distortion, of the original event or the overall views expressed.

6b  Contributors and participants in any programme should be dealt with fairly and should, except as required in the public interest, be informed of the reason for their proposed contribution and participation and the role that is expected of them.

6d  Broadcasters should acknowledge the right of individuals to express their own opinions.

6e  Broadcasters should take particular care when dealing with distressing situations, and with grief and bereavement. Discretion and sensitivity are expected.

6f  Broadcasters should recognise the rights of individuals, and particularly children and young people, not to be exploited, humiliated or unnecessarily identified.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complaint

[11] TV3 responded to the complaint under each of the Guidelines;

6a  TV3 contended that as the item explained that the woman was incensed by the media presence and wanted them off her property, there had been no distortion;

6b  TV3 stated that the woman, when approached for comment, had responded with the attack shown and there had been no harassment. Moreover, as the man’s release was a matter of public interest, TV3 wrote, the approach was not unfair and as she was aware of the media’s presence, it was not unfair to screen the woman’s reaction;

6d  TV3 stated that the woman was given an opportunity to express her opinion;

6e  TV3 argued that it took care in reporting a difficult situation; and

6f  on the understanding that Mr Boyce was referring to the victim of the man’s offending, TV3 said it had decided after legal advice that the man should be named in the public interest and that, by naming him, it should not necessarily identify the offender’s "victim".

[12] In conclusion, TV3 said it was unable to determine the content of other media, and stated that it did not consider that its coverage had been unfair to the woman.

[13] TV3 also considered, if the complaint was upheld, that the decision could unreasonably and unjustifiably restrict the public’s right to receive information, and be contrary to s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[14] Focusing on the part of the coverage which dealt with the woman’s attack on the TV3 reporter and cameraman, Mr Boyce contended that the situation which prevailed at the time was obviously not normal. He wrote:

The reply from TV3 does not respond to my claim that the reporter sought to ‘buttonhole’ anyone that appeared to be connected with the newest paedophile’s home. Indeed, the way that TV3 have put it, the woman was apparently asked for a comment on the situation in general, not her link to the crime. Perhaps this point could be clarified, but it does not change TV3’s portrayal of an attack, by the old ‘lady’ or ‘darling’.

[15] Mr Boyce said that TV3 had not clarified:

whether the victim was identified;

whether it had two cameras at the scene or had borrowed footage of the attack from TVNZ; and

why had it been necessary for TV3’s Director of News and Current Affairs (Mr Mark Jennings) to appear on RNZ’s Nine to Noon to explain his judgement call as to the naming of the man, if TV3 was a self-contained news organisation.

[16] Mr Boyce stated that as the Director (Mr Jennings) was interviewed by RNZ:

… it’s disingenuous to claim other reports of the victim are irrelevant, and TV3 are not obliged to adhere to what other media referred to as ‘legal reasons’ for not naming the newest paedophile.

[17] The clearest breach of Standard 6, Mr Boyce maintained, was TV3’s "inflammatory" news introductions and the "stake-out" in Palmerston North and thus it could not claim that its coverage of the woman’s attack displayed discretion and sensitivity.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[18] TV3 advised that it had explained earlier how the woman was approached. It emphasised that TV3 was responsible and answerable for only the material it screened, adding:

TV3 cannot influence or control material broadcast by other media organisations. This is not a "disingenuous" response. Each separate media organisation takes and follows its own legal advice where relevant.

[19] Describing the number of cameras as irrelevant, TV3 stated that Guideline 6e required a news organisation to determine the appropriate level of attention to be given to each topic. It stated that the level of public interest in the story played a major part in the decision. In the situation complained about, TV3 contended, there was a high level of public interest. It continued:

In those circumstances treatment of this story employed an appropriate level of discretion and sensitivity. It was material to the story about the release of … to show that tensions were high in the neighbourhood and this item demonstrated that.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[20] Mr Boyce contended that the issue of identifying the residence of a paroled criminal was relevant to his complaint, not just the reaction of the elderly woman. In response to TV3’s argument that the coverage was warranted, Mr Boyce maintained that the focus given to the specific incident was not appropriate. He wrote:

Although the sight of a superannuitant taking to a reporter and a cameraman with a shopping bag has a certain novelty, I suggest that it is not headline news, as it was treated by the media. It was certainly not in the public interest to focus on this event if it provided some sense of dramatic footage for the evening news.

[21] Mr Boyce concluded by suggesting that the media’s presence added to the tension in the neighbourhood and:

In fact, this was a piece of cynical opportunism by TV3, and others, in playing on community fears of crime.

Further Correspondence

[22] While expressing reluctance at delaying the complaints determination process, TV3 pointed out in response to Mr Boyce’s final comment that he had complained initially about one aspect of its coverage, and had nominated the fairness standard. However, in his final comment, Mr Boyce had raised a number of allegations regarding what he described as a "siege". Explaining that it had reported the events which were in the public interest, TV3 contended that the matters now raised by Mr Boyce were not relevant to an assessment of the fairness complaint.

[23] In response, Mr Boyce described TV3’s submission as "completely unjustified".

The Authority’s Determination

[24] When it first addressed the complaint, the Authority considered that the field tape of the events which took place before and after the segment which was screened could be of assistance in its determination. It requested that material from TV3. TV3 advised that it was unable to provide it as the footage screened in the TV3 news item had been filmed by a TVNZ camera crew. In these circumstances, the Authority has determined the complaint having viewed only the item screened by TV3 on 4 June 2003.

[25] Mr Boyce’s correspondence has raised a number of issues. The Authority has focused on his letter of 6 June where, after expressing concern about a media "siege" in Palmerston North, he stated that his complaint was "specific to the footage of an elderly woman attacking the cameraman and reporter" which was shown in an item screened on 3 News on 4 June. The other matters raised by Mr Boyce are either not raised by him as issues of broadcasting standards, or do not involve broadcasting standards issues.

[26] Mr Boyce contended that the coverage was unfair for a number of reasons. In essence, they were that the item did not explain the background to and the reasons for the attack.

[27] Turning to the item in which the aspect complained about occurred, the Authority notes that it dealt with the release from prison of a paedophile who was expected to return to his mother’s home in Palmerston North. It was apparent that there was intense media interest in the release and the item involved a number of interviews with local residents. The man’s mother was interviewed through a door to her home. It was also apparent that the presence of the media had caused a woman to become upset and she was shown swinging a plastic bag at a TV3 reporter and camera operator.

[28] The Authority accepts that the reasons for the woman’s actions were apparent and that TV3, by showing the attack and broadcasting her comments, did not deal with her unfairly. The Authority does not consider that Standard 6 was contravened.

[29] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
18 September 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Simon Boyce’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 6 June 2003
  2. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 16 June 2003
  3. Mr Boyce’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 18 June 2003
  4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 8 July 2003
  5. Mr Boyce’s Final Comment – 12 July 2003
  6. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 30 July 2003
  7. Mr Boyce’s Second Final Comment – 1 August 2003
  8. The Authority’s Request to TV3 – 1 August 2003
  9. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 8 August 2003