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Gardner, Phillips and Smith and TVWorks Ltd - 2012-018

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainants

  • Brittany Gardner of Auckland
  • Hazel Phillips of Auckland
  • Samantha Smith of Auckland

Dated

8th June 2012

Number

2012-018

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaints under sections 8(1A) and 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item reported on the alleged practice of women offering sex in exchange for taxi rides – showed nightlife footage of central Auckland including shots of a number of young women – reporter interviewed taxi drivers and stated that one taxi driver had allegedly accepted sex in exchange for a taxi ride – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, privacy, controversial issues, accuracy, discrimination and denigration, and violence

Findings
Standard 3 (privacy) – Ms Smith and taxi driver were not identifiable – Ms Gardner was identifiable but the item did not disclose any private facts about her – the footage of women was used as visual wallpaper for the story and clearly was not suggesting that the women were associated with the practice reported on, which was reinforced by a clarification broadcast the following night – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – Ms Smith and taxi driver not treated unfairly – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – item not inaccurate or misleading – not upheld

Standard 4 (controversial issues) – item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – item did not comment on the issue of sexual assault or make any general comments about women – did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, women as a section of the community – not upheld

Standard 10 (violence) – item did not contain any violence – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 on 12 February 2012, reported on the alleged practice of women offering sex in exchange for taxi rides. The presenter introduced the item as follows:

The case of a Perth taxi driver charged with rape has highlighted the issue of sex for fares on both sides of the Tasman. The driver was cleared but he has shocked Australians with claims that young women often offer sexual favours instead of paying, and as [our reporter] reports, it is happening here too.

[2]  The item consisted primarily of a voiceover accompanied by nightlife footage of central Auckland, including shots of a number of young women, some of them in taxis. The reporter interviewed local taxi drivers about their personal experiences, and stated that one taxi driver had allegedly admitted to accepting sex in exchange for a taxi ride.

[3]  Hazel Phillips and Samantha Smith made formal complaints to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, while Brittany Gardner made a direct privacy complaint to this Authority. Ms Gardner and Ms Smith argued that they were shown in the item without their consent and in breach of their privacy. They were concerned that the footage implicated them in the alleged practice reported on. Ms Phillips argued that the footage breached the privacy of the taxi driver who had apparently accepted sex in exchange for a taxi ride.

[4]  In addition, Ms Smith and Ms Phillips argued that the item was unfair and inaccurate, and Ms Phillips argued that it discriminated against women, trivialised rape, treated sexual assault as unimportant and implied that women “ask for it”.

[5]  The issue is whether the item breached Standards 3 (privacy), 4 (controversial issues), 5 (accuracy), 6 (fairness), 7 (discrimination and denigration) and 10 (violence) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[6]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the item breach the privacy of Ms Gardner, Ms Smith, or the taxi driver?

[7]  Standard 3 states that broadcasters must maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual. The privacy standard exists to protect individuals from undesired informational and observational access to themselves and their affairs, in order to maintain their dignity, choice, mental wellbeing and reputation, and their ability to develop relationships, opinions and creativity away from the glare of publicity.

Identification

[8]  When we consider a privacy complaint, we must first determine whether the person whose privacy has allegedly been interfered with was identifiable in the broadcast.

[9]  Ms Gardner was shown sitting in the backseat of a taxi as the camera zoomed in to show her face, through the front windscreen. We accept that she was identifiable.

[10]  Ms Smith was shown in the teaser preceding the 3 News item. She was filmed from behind as she walked across the street away from the camera with a group of people. Ms Smith accepted that her face was not shown in the broadcast, but argued that the face of her companion’s husband was visible at one point which “links the footage to his wife and then in turn to me”.

[11]  The footage of Ms Smith was extremely brief, filmed from some distance, and featured among a number of coming-up teasers at the start of the 3 News programme. While the face of the complainant’s companion was visible in profile for approximately 1 second, we do not consider that he was recognisable to an extent that would have enabled identification of the complainant.   

[12]  Likewise, we do not consider that the taxi driver was identifiable. He was filmed sitting in his taxi as the reporter spoke to him through the window. The camera angle meant that most of his face was obscured and the item did not disclose the name of the taxi company he worked for.  

[13]  Having found that Ms Smith and the taxi driver were not identifiable, we decline to uphold the complaints that the item breached their privacy.

Privacy principle 1 (public disclosure of private facts)

[14]  As Ms Gardner was the only person, the subject of these complaints, who was identifiable, we must now consider whether the broadcast disclosed any private facts about her.

[15]  Privacy principle 1 of the Authority’s privacy principles states that it is inconsistent with an individual’s privacy to allow the public disclosure of private facts, where the disclosure is highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

[16]  Ms Gardner was concerned that the footage implicated her in the alleged practice of women trading sex for taxi rides, and contended that the footage was detrimental to her image, and in particular, her career.

[17]  TVWorks did not consider that the item disclosed any private facts about Ms Gardner. It noted that she was filmed from a public place and stated that the footage provided a “generic vision” for the story which is how it would have been interpreted by most viewers.

[18]  The item did not contain any comments about Ms Gardner or draw attention to the footage of her in the taxi. We agree with the broadcaster that it was obvious that the footage of the women shown in the item was used as visual wallpaper for the story, and that viewers would have understood this. The item did not suggest that the women shown were partaking in the alleged practice reported on. 

[19]  Further, we note that TVWorks took measures to address the issues raised by the complaints the day following the broadcast. The story was removed from the 3 News website and a clarification was broadcast in a news bulletin on 13 February which stated:

And we’d like to clarify something from last night’s programme. 3 News reported claims that young female taxi passengers sometimes offer sex to get out of paying their fare. We want to make it clear there is no suggestion that any of the women shown in the story have taken part in that practice.

[20]  We commend the broadcaster for taking this action, and while we reject the contention the item created the impression alleged, in our view, the action taken by TVWorks following the broadcast was sufficient to mitigate any alleged harm to the complainants’ reputations and dignity caused by the use of their images

[21]  Having found that the item did not disclose any private facts about Ms Gardner, we decline to uphold her privacy complaint.

Was any individual shown in the item treated unfairly?

[22]  Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

[23]  One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.1

[24]  Ms Smith argued that the item was unfair as it implied that she was somehow related to the story about women trading sex for taxi rides.

[25]  We do not consider that Ms Smith was treated unfairly. The item did not suggest that the women shown had offered sex in exchange for taxi fares. It was very clear that the footage was used as visual wallpaper for the story. The broadcaster also went further than was required by emphasising this in the clarification the following evening.

[26]  Ms Phillips raised Standard 6 but did not specify who she considered had been treated unfairly in the item, other than saying that the item portrayed women as “drunk”, “scheming” and “promiscuous”, and implied that they “ask for it”.

[27]  As the fairness standard applies only to individuals and organisations, as opposed to groups such as women in general, we find that the standard is not relevant to this aspect of Ms Phillips’ complaint. However, we have addressed this point under Standard 7 below.

[28]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaints under Standard 6.

Was the item inaccurate or misleading?

[29]  Standard 5 (accuracy) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.2

[30]  Ms Smith argued that the implication she was offering sex for a taxi fare was inaccurate. We have addressed this issue in relation to privacy and fairness, and on the same basis, we find that that the item was not inaccurate or misleading in this respect.

[31]  Ms Phillips argued that the item claimed that the “problem” of women offering sex in exchange for taxi fares was “rife”, “even though the taxi companies had never heard of it happening”. TVWorks rejected this argument, but accepted that the reporter said that most taxi drivers she spoke to had been propositioned or knew of someone who had been propositioned.

[32]  During the item, the reporter stated, “Nearly every single taxi driver I have approached tonight has confirmed that they’ve been propositioned or another taxi driver they know has been propositioned by a young, drunk female.”

[33]  This statement was clearly distinguishable as the reporter’s personal comment, summarising what she had been told by the taxi drivers she spoke to, rather than a statement of fact. It was therefore exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a, which states that the accuracy standard does not apply to analysis, comment or opinion.

[34]  In addition, the item ended with a statement presenting a contrary view, that the alleged practice was not widespread. The reporter stated in a voiceover:

3 News spoke to the managers of Auckland taxi companies who were unaware of the ‘sex for fares’ propositions. The Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee also said he’d never heard of it and didn’t want to comment just yet.

[35]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaints that the item was inaccurate and misleading in breach of Standard 5.

Did the item discuss a controversial issue of public importance requiring the presentation of significant viewpoints?

[36]  Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[37]  The Authority has previously stated that the balance standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.3 The standard only applies to programmes which discuss “controversial issues of public importance”, and therefore this objective is of vital importance in a free and democratic society.

[38]  Ms Phillips argued that the item omitted important viewpoints from women who did not offer “sexual favours” in return for cab fares and reiterated her view that the item exaggerated the “problem”. TVWorks argued that there was no ongoing public debate about the issue discussed in the item, which emanated from a controversial court case in Australia. In any event, it argued that the item contained many different viewpoints, and that it was inherent in the story that most women would not offer sex for taxi fares.

[39]  The item was a superficial investigation, prompted by the claim made by the Perth taxi driver that young women often offered sexual favours instead of money, into whether any such ‘sex for fares’ practice was also taking place in New Zealand. The item consisted predominantly of vox-pops from people and taxi drivers on the street, expressing their views on the existence and extent of the alleged practice in Auckland. The brief news item, which was approximately 3 minutes in length, did not purport to present a serious and even-handed examination of this practice, but focused on the personal experiences of those interviewed, including several taxi drivers. We therefore do not consider that the item amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance. In any event, viewers would have understood that most women would not consider engaging in such a practice, and the item presented alternative viewpoints that the alleged practice was not widespread (see paragraph [34] above).

[40]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Did the item encourage discrimination or denigration against women as a section of the community?

[41]  Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[42]  Ms Phillips argued that the item discriminated against women, portrayed sexual assault as unimportant, and implied women “ask for it”.

[43]  TVWorks stated that the item did not make any comment or judgement on the general issue of sexual assault. Rather, the story attempted to investigate whether Auckland taxi drivers had been offered sex to pay for taxi fares, and there was no intimation that all women, or all young women, undertook such a practice, it said.

[44]  We agree with TVWorks that the item did not comment on sexual assault, but was confined to the issue of some women allegedly offering sex in exchange for taxi rides. The story did not make any comments that were negative towards women or about women in general.

[45]  We are therefore satisfied that the item did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, women as a section of the community, and we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 7.

Did the broadcaster exercise adequate care and discretion in dealing with the issue of violence?

[46]  Standard 10 states that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. The violence standard exists to ensure that broadcasters use care and discretion to exclude unsuitable violent material and to promote the use of warnings where necessary to protect viewers – particularly child viewers.4

[47]  Ms Phillips reiterated her arguments about sexual assault (see paragraph [42]). TVWorks argued that no violence was depicted in the item, nor was any reference made to violence, except in relation to the charges faced by the Australian taxi driver. It therefore contended that Standard 10 was not applicable.

[48]  We are satisfied that the item did not contain any “violence” as envisaged by the standard and we therefore decline to uphold this part of Ms Phillips’ complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
8 June 2012

Appendix

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

Brittany Gardner’s complaint

1                  Brittany Gardner’s direct privacy complaint to the Authority – 13 February 2012

2                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 9 March 2012

 

Hazel Phillips’ complaint

1                  Hazel Phillips’ formal complaint – 14 February 2012

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 20 March 2012

3                 Ms Phillips’ referral to the Authority – 27 March 2012

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 24 April 2012

 

Samantha Smith’s complaint

1                  Samantha Smith’s formal complaint – 13 February 2012

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 9 March 2012

3                 Ms Smith’s referral to the Authority – 12 March 2012

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 23 March 2012


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

2Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036

3Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

4Knight and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-137