BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

GW and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2013-012

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

Complaint under section 8(1A) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sunday – item showed brief footage of a stolen car, including its number plate – allegedly in breach of privacy standard

Standard 3 (privacy) – complainant and her husband were not identifiable through the footage of their car and number plate – no private facts were disclosed about the complainant or her husband that would be considered highly offensive to an objective reasonable person – item focused on the offender and how his background may have contributed to his offending – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   An item on Sunday profiled a young man who was a recidivist car thief and contained interviews with the man and with his family members about his background. The most serious offending occurred when the man went on a crime spree, stealing five cars and eluding police for 48 hours, before he was stopped by road spikes. The item showed photographs of his capture, in which the car he was in, including its number plate, was briefly visible. The programme was broadcast on 3 March 2013 on TV One.

[2]  GW made a direct privacy complaint to the Authority, saying that the stolen car shown in the item belonged to her husband, and that to see their car on television with the number plate visible, and without any warning, was a “great shock”.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the privacy standard (Standard 3) and the Authority’s Privacy Principles as set out in 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 programme breach the privacy of the complainant and her husband?

[5]  Standard 3 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]  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. The Authority has previously stated that in order for an individual’s privacy to be breached, that person must be identifiable beyond family and close friends who would reasonably be expected to know about the matter dealt with in the broadcast.1

[7]  TVNZ argued that the complainant and her husband were not identifiable through the brief footage of their car, noting that the motor vehicle register was not accessible to the public so people could not be identified through their number plate. It did not consider that the item disclosed any private facts that a reasonable person would find highly offensive, asserting that number plates are designed to be viewed by the public and are regularly in the public domain.

[8]  We agree that the complainant and her husband were not identifiable for the purposes of the privacy standard. The shot of the car and number plate was very brief, only 3 seconds in length, and formed part of a montage of photographs which captured the young man’s arrest after his 48-hour crime spree. No comment was made about the owner of the car, and the complainant and her husband were not otherwise referred to or named in the broadcast. Only people who already knew the complainants owned the car – and probably also knew it had been stolen – would have been able to identify them, and this group of people is not wide enough to satisfy the test for identification (as outlined in paragraph [6] above).

[9]  In any event, the brief footage of the car and number plate would not, in our view, be considered highly offensive to an objective reasonable person. The focus of the story was the young man and his background, including questions about whether his offending related to his experiences in early childhood. The footage of the car was incidental to this focus, and in fact we think most viewers would have missed the number plate and had their attention on the man’s capture. Further, TVNZ advised that the image of the car was publicised at the time of the man’s arrest in July 2010, and is still publicly available on the internet.

[10]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the privacy complaint.

Name suppression

[11]  While we have not upheld a breach of privacy on this occasion, taking into account the circumstances surrounding the complaint and our finding that the complainant and her husband were not identified in the broadcast, we consider that it is appropriate to suppress the complainant’s details in the decision.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
11 June 2013


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

1           GW’s direct privacy complaint to the Authority – 18 March 2013

2          TVNZ’s response to the Authority (including attachments) – 16 April 2013

1See for example, Moore and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2009-036.