BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Bowie and TVWorks Ltd - 2010-023

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Megan Bowie
3 News
TVWorks Ltd
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item on the death of a Georgian luger at the Winter Olympics in Canada – showed footage of the athlete coming off his sled, flying over the barrier and hitting a metal pole – included still shots of the athlete in the air just prior to hitting the pole and then again in slow motion – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and privacy

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – item handled with care and sensitivity – not upheld

Standard 3 (privacy) – privacy standard does not apply to deceased persons – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on Saturday 13 February 2010, reported on the death of a Georgian luger during a practice run at the Winter Olympic Games in Canada.

[2]   The presenter introduced the item by saying:

There’s been a tragedy at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Even before the opening ceremony got underway, the luge track claimed the life of a Georgian athlete. A warning, our story contains graphic images of the crash as it happens. If you don’t want to see them, look away now.

[3]   As the presenter introduced the report, a still caption of the athlete in the air about to hit a metal pole was shown in the background.

[4]   Footage was shown of the male athlete beginning his practice run and speeding down the course at over 100 kilometres an hour. A voiceover said “...what’s about to unfold will end with his tragic death”. As the man sped down the track and got to the final bend, he hit a wall, flew over the barrier and struck a metal pole stopping him instantly. Two still shots of the luger hitting the pole were also shown as the reporter discussed the accident.

[5]   Brief footage of emergency crews trying to revive the man was shown, however the man was obscured by the people crowded around him.

[6]   The item showed a slow motion version of the footage of the man coming off his sled on the final corner, but the shot paused just before he slammed into the metal pole.

[7]   The Head of the International Olympic Committee was shown saying that they “had no words” to describe what they felt, but that he could not comment on the matter until later.

[8]   The report included interviews with a former Olympic luger and a New Zealand representative competing in the same event as the man who died. The presenter went on to say that there had been criticisms of the track prior to the accident and that the track had been closed while the crash was being investigated.


[9]   Megan Bowie made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the footage of the man hitting the metal pole breached broadcasting standards.

[10]   The complainant argued that “featuring full coverage of anyone’s death, regardless of warnings to look away” was not in good taste and was “voyeuristic at best”.

[11]   Ms Bowie considered that the footage had violated the privacy of the man who had died.


[12]   Standards 1 and 3 and guidelines 1a and 1b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.


1a   Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency bearing in mind the context in which any content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. programme classification, target audience, type of programme and use of warnings etc.

1b  The use of visual and verbal warnings should be considered when content is likely to disturb or offend a significant number of viewers except in the case of news and current affairs, where verbal warnings only will be considered. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Standard 3 Privacy

Broadcasters should maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[13]   TVWorks contended that, while the content of the story was unsettling for viewers to watch, the presenter had provided a verbal warning advising viewers of the item’s graphic content. It stated that 3 News had an adult target audience and that unsupervised children were unlikely to watch news programmes.

[14]   The broadcaster argued that its news team had rightly decided that “the issue could not be properly reported without the use of these images”, and contended that the reporting was matter of fact and that no gratuitous details had been included. It went on to say that, “it is an unfortunate fact that from time to time it is necessary in the public interest for our news programming to accurately report horrific events”. It stated that it “tried hard to ensure the right balance is drawn between the right of the public to be informed and the possibility that some viewers may be upset or disturbed by the report”.

[15]   TVWorks considered that the “correct balance had been achieved” and that, in this instance and context, the information was appropriate to include in the report. It declined to uphold Ms Bowie’s complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[16]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Bowie referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She disagreed with the broadcaster that it was necessary to broadcast graphic details of the crash.

Authority's Determination

[17]   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.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[18]   When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • 3 News was an unclassified news programme

  • the programme was broadcast at 6pm during children’s normally accepted viewing times

  • 3 News had an adult target audience

  • the item was preceded by a verbal warning.

[19]   In our view, the item covered a legitimate and newsworthy story, especially when considering that concerns had been raised about the safety of the track prior to the accident that claimed the life of the Georgian athlete.

[20]   We consider that the broadcaster provided a strong, clear and comprehensive warning that allowed viewers to decide whether they wanted to watch the item. The footage was taken from a respectful distance and no close-up shots were shown of the man directly after the accident or as he was being worked on by emergency crews before being taken away in an ambulance. In our view, while the footage of the crash was distressing, it was handled with adequate care and sensitivity by the broadcaster.

[21]   We point out that, by their very nature, news programmes cover stories and show footage that some viewers might find disturbing and offensive. On this occasion, we find that the footage shown of the crash was acceptable when taken in the context of a news programme targeted at adults and which was preceded by a clear warning.

[22]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1.

Standard 3 (privacy)

[23]   As outlined in Tomonaga and CanWest TVWorks Ltd1, section 4(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 requires every broadcaster to maintain in its programmes and their presentation, standards which are consistent with the privacy of the individual. “Individual” is defined in the Broadcasting Amendment Act 2000 as having the same meaning as the word “individual” in the Privacy Act 1993. Section 2 of the Privacy Act interprets “individual” as meaning a natural person, other than a deceased person. Not being an individual within the meaning of the Act, a deceased person therefore does not have a legal right to privacy.

[24]   Accordingly, we find that Standard 3 does not apply to the man featured in the item and we decline to uphold the privacy complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
1 June 2010


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

1.           Megan Bowie’s formal complaint – 14 February 2010
2.          TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 18 February 2010
3.          Ms Bowie’s referral to the Authority – 18 February 2010
4.          TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 11 March 2010

1Decision No. 2007-081