3 News – child participants – mother’s consent – children of gang member sought by police – privacy – good taste – fairness – upheld by broadcaster
Action taken by broadcaster sufficient
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Two pre-school children were shown in news items broadcast on 3 News at 6.00pm and 10.30pm on 25 January 2000. They were described as the children of a member of the "Screwdriver Gang" who was being sought by police in connection with armed robberies in Auckland.
Kris Vavasour complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd that the privacy of the two young children had been breached. She also complained that it was a breach of the good taste standard and unfair to show footage of the children in a way which publicly identified them. In her view, no consideration had been given to the effects of the broadcast on the children.
In its response, TV3 acknowledged that its broadcast of the footage of the children had breached their privacy and, in doing so, it had not dealt fairly with them and had behaved in a way which viewers would find distasteful. It upheld all aspects of the complaint. It advised that it had counselled the reporter over her error of judgment and had removed the pictures from its tape archive so that there would be no repeat broadcast of the material.
Dissatisfied with the action taken by TV3, Mrs Vavasour referred the complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the action taken by the broadcaster was insufficient.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.
In an item broadcast on 3 News at 6.00pm and repeated at 10.30pm on 25 January 2000, it was reported that the members of the "Screwdriver Gang" were being sought by police in connection with armed robberies in Auckland. Photographs of men who were identified as members of the gang were shown, and it was reported that police were seeking the assistance of their families to persuade them to turn themselves in. From the home of one of the men, the reporter identified by name his two pre-school children, describing them as "children of a man police say is a serial bank robber who is on the run".
Kris Vavasour complained to TV3 that it had failed in its responsibility to protect the privacy of the two children. The news item, she noted, not only identified them by name, but also showed them in a lengthy close-up shot. These children, she continued, had nothing to do with the actions of their father, and yet they had their right to privacy denied "in a most callous manner".
Mrs Vavasour complained under privacy principle (i) that TV3 had disclosed a private fact about the children which was objectionable to a reasonable person. That principle reads:
(i) The protection of privacy includes protection against the public disclosure of private facts where the facts disclosed are highly offensive and objectionable to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities.
She maintained that there was no public interest in knowing who those children were, noting that the interest lay with their father and his exploits. She wrote:
You have taken their most private information – their identity – and made it public knowledge. They hardly look old enough to have given informed consent to this information being made public, or to know what effect it could have on their lives.
The means by which you have exposed these children is most unfair. Your camera has followed them into the bedroom, filmed them during what should be their most private moments and labelled them for the nation to see. They were identified clearly on both the audio and the video as the children of an alleged criminal on the run from police.
Under principle (vii), Mrs Vavasour noted that broadcasters were required to satisfy themselves that the broadcast was in the best interests of the child. That principle reads:
(vii) An individual who consents to the invasion of his or her privacy, cannot later succeed in a claim for 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.
Mrs Vavasour said she did not consider it was in the children’s interests to be identified in this manner.
Next, Mrs Vavasour argued that the broadcast breached standards G2 and G4 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards require broadcasters:
G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.
G4 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any programme.
The lives of the children had been trivialised, Mrs Vavasour wrote, because of their parentage. In her view, the disclosure of private facts in the guise of news was more objectionable than the disclosure of private facts about a child in the guise of entertainment which had been the subject of a well-publicised previous complaint upheld by the Authority.
In addition, the complainant continued, the broadcast had been unfair to the children, because even if consent had been given by a parent or guardian, there would be long term effects from publicly identifying them in this way. She emphasised that the broadcaster had a responsibility to ensure that the best interests of the children were not compromised.
In conclusion she wrote that she had found the inclusion of the children in the item to be "gratuitous and predatory". She said she considered TV3 had failed in its duty to protect the most vulnerable members of society by violating their right to privacy and not considering whether public identification was in their best interest.
In its response to the Authority, TV3 explained that the item was broadcast on a day when its Director of News and the Senior News Producer were both absent. It noted that both were conversant with the Authority’s privacy principles and would have had no hesitation in stopping that element of the story from going to air. TV3 reported that its Director of News had advised that the reporter had mistakenly believed that it was sufficient for her to have obtained the permission of the children’s guardian. TV3 noted that the family had hoped that the children’s father would see the item and give himself up, and that they were concerned that he might be shot by the police should he not do so. According to TV3, the reporter had believed she had acted in the best interests of the family, but had obviously not thought through the implications for the children concerned.
TV3 acknowledged that the programme breached the children’s privacy. It advised that it had removed all pictures of the children from its tape archive to avoid any possibility of a repeat broadcast of the material, and that the reporter involved had been "counselled at length" over her error of judgment. It added that the news producers on the day of the broadcast had also been spoken to and now fully understood their responsibilities in relation to filming young children.
With respect to the complaint under standards G2 and G4, TV3 found that in breaching the privacy principles, it had not dealt fairly with the children and had behaved in a way most viewers would have found distasteful. It accordingly upheld the complaint under those standards.
TV3 assured the complainant that it took its responsibilities as a broadcaster seriously, and that it was not its wish to be involved in any broadcast which was not in the best interests of any young child. It apologised for any distress the item had caused.
When Mrs Vavasour referred the complaint to the Authority she advised that although she was satisfied with TV3’s decision to uphold all aspects of her complaint, she had no confidence about the manner in which TV3 had dealt with those responsible for the broadcast. As a further point, she noted that TV3 had removed the tape of the footage from its tape archive. She suggested that this was unfortunate as it was a prime example of ‘what not to do’ and was therefore a good learning tool.
In addition she wrote:
I am also worried that I may be a victim of puffery. The letter states that the reporter has been ‘counselled at length’ and that the news producers have been ‘spoken to’. Now while it is very easy to make these ‘talks’ and ‘counselling sessions’ sound grand, it is just as conceivable that they were not more than a verbal slap on the wrist with a wet dishcloth, and therefore just as effective.
Mrs Vavasour said she felt TV3 was ducking responsibility for its actions, and asked the Authority to consider whether there was anything else that could be done to ensure this type of gratuitous exposure of innocent children did not happen again.
TV3 advised that it had no further comment to make.
The Authority has dealt previously with a complaint about this news item. In Decision No: 2000-043, dated 30 March 2000, it upheld the complaint that the children’s privacy was breached but, in view of TV3’s acknowledgment of the breach, and its assurance that the file footage would not be retained for future use, it decided no order was warranted.
In this instance, the complaint was referred to the Authority on the basis that the complainant was dissatisfied with the action taken by the broadcaster, having upheld both the privacy and standards aspects of her complaint. The Authority remains of the view that TV3’s action was satisfactory, and accordingly declines to uphold the complaint that the action taken was insufficient.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the action taken was insufficient.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
4 May 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaints:
1. Kris Vavasour’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 2 February 2000
2. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 29 February 2000
3. Mrs Vavasour’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 28 March 2000
4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 10 April 2000