BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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de Villiers and TVWorks Ltd - 2012-103

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Alex de Villiers
Number
2012-103
Programme
60 Minutes
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1A) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
60 Minutes – item reported on high profile immigration case involving Chinese millionaire William Yan – disclosed Mr Yan’s address and showed footage of Mr Yan’s business assistant in the lobby of the apartment building where Mr Yan lived – allegedly in breach of privacy standard

Findings
Standard 3 (privacy) – Mr Yan’s address was not disclosed for the purposes of encouraging harassment as envisaged by privacy principle 4 – no evidence that harassment resulted from the disclosure – apartment building lobby was accessible to the public so neither Mr Yan nor his business assistant had a reasonable expectation of privacy there – item did not breach the privacy of Mr Yan or his business assistant – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  An item on 60 Minutes reported on a high profile immigration case involving a Chinese millionaire, William Yan, who was granted New Zealand citizenship in 2008. It questioned Mr Yan’s connections with, and the impartiality of, Members of Parliament, and the actions of state agencies. The item was broadcast on TV3 on 28 August 2012.

[2]  Alex de Villiers made a direct privacy complaint to the Authority, alleging that the item breached Mr Yan’s privacy because it showed footage of documents that disclosed his address. The complainant also objected to footage of Mr Yan’s business assistant in the lobby of the apartment building where Mr Yan lived.

[3]  The issue is whether the item breached Standard 3 (privacy) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  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 William Yan, or his business assistant?

[5]  Standard 3 (privacy) states that broadcasters should maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual. The privacy standard exists to protect individuals from undesired access to, and disclosure of, information about 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.

[6]    We have addressed Mr de Villiers’ privacy complaint in two parts, as follows:

  • Did the disclosure of Mr Yan’s address breach his privacy?
  • Did the broadcast of the footage filmed in the apartment building lobby breach the privacy of Mr Yan, or his business assistant?
Did the disclosure of Mr Yan’s address breach his privacy?

[7]  Privacy principle 4 of the Authority’s Privacy Principles is most relevant to this part of the complaint. This states that the protection of privacy includes the protection against the disclosure by a broadcaster, without consent, of the address of an identifiable individual, in circumstances where the disclosure is highly offensive to an objective reasonable person. The principle was developed to prevent the broadcast of a person’s details in circumstances where they are disclosed for the purposes of encouraging harassment of the person by members of the public.1 The Authority has also extended this to include situations where harassment was a foreseeable consequence, or resulted from careless or negligent disclosure.2

[8]  The first question is whether Mr Yan’s address was disclosed in the broadcast. The item contained various references to the name of the apartment building where he lived, and showed two documents which disclosed his apartment number, floor number, and street address. The first document showed details of several company directors, including Mr Yan, though his name as shown on the document was “LIU, Yang”. The second document was an envelope addressed to “Mr W. Yan”. While we accept that this amounted to disclosure of Mr Yan’s address, we note that the footage in both instances was extremely brief; there was no commentary drawing attention to the address, and most viewers would have missed it.

[9]  The second question is whether an objective reasonable person would find the disclosure of Mr Yan’s address highly offensive. This involves an assessment of whether the address was disclosed for the purpose of encouraging viewers to harass Mr Yan, or whether in fact it resulted in harassment. Here, the disclosure of Mr Yan’s address was incidental to the focus of the story and was used only as a visual accompaniment. In both instances, the disclosure was brief and there was no verbal reference to the address, so viewers’ attention was not drawn to it. It therefore could not be said that the address was disclosed for the purposes of encouraging people to harass, or be otherwise abusive towards, Mr Yan. Nor have we been provided with any evidence that harassment resulted from the disclosure in the broadcast.

[10]  Further, there was a high level of public interest in Mr Yan’s case. His address was already in the public domain as previous media and press coverage had disclosed the name of the apartment building where he lived, and his floor number.

[11]  In these circumstances, we find that the disclosure of Mr Yan’s address in the 60 Minutes item would not be considered highly offensive by an objective reasonable person.

[12]  Accordingly, we find the disclosure of Mr Yan’s address did not breach his privacy, and we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

Did the broadcast of the footage filmed in the apartment building lobby breach the privacy of Mr Yan, or his business assistant?

[13]  Mr de Villiers did not specify whose privacy he considered had been breached by the broadcast of the footage obtained in the apartment building lobby. TVWorks considered and dismissed a potential breach of privacy in regards to Mr Yan’s business assistant. As the complainant argued that the lobby was akin to Mr Yan’s front or back yard, we have considered this aspect of the complaint in relation to his privacy as well.

[14]  In our view, neither Mr Yan nor his business assistant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the lobby (and in fact, Mr Yan did not feature in the footage at all). The apartment building is not exclusively residential, but is also a hotel. The lobby is open to the general public and anyone could walk in off the street and make enquiries at reception. We therefore disagree that the lobby was akin to Mr Yan’s front or back yard. In any case, the footage did not disclose any private information, and would not have been highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

[15]  We therefore decline to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
29 January 2013

Appendix

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

1           Alex de Villiers’ direct privacy complaint to the Authority – 1 September 2012

2          TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 9 October 2012

3          Mr de Villiers’ final comment – 19 October 2012


1See, for example, Spring and The Radio Network Ltd, Decision No. 2007-108.

2See NJ and Apna Networks Ltd, Decision No. 2010-066 at paragraphs [13] to [15].