BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Johnsson and TVWorks Ltd - 2010-013

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

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item on a police officer who had been dragged under a stolen patrol car – stated that the officer was the first police officer in New Zealand to undergo a sex change and was now a transsexual – allegedly in breach of privacy

Standard 3 (privacy) – information about the officer’s sex change was in the public domain – no private facts disclosed – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on Friday 15 January 2010, reported that a police officer had been dragged under a stolen patrol car which had been taken by a drunk driver from a police checkpoint in Christchurch.

[2]   The presenter introduced the item by saying:

It’s been revealed that the police officer dragged under a stolen patrol car in Christchurch was the country’s first officer to undergo a sex change. Christchurch police say a review is already underway of security around patrol vehicles at alcohol checkpoints after the police car was stolen so easily.

[3]   The reporter explained that the police officer dragged under the patrol car was a transsexual and went on to describe what had happened the night the officer was injured. A photograph of the officer prior to the sex-change operation was shown and the item disclosed the officer’s previous and new name.

[4]   The reporter said that the officer had undergone sex-change surgery five years ago to become a woman, and that the officer had served in the police force for over 25 years.

[5]   The item included details of the offender, what charges he was facing in relation to the incident and a brief interview with a police representative.


[6]   Sven Johnsson made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item had breached Standard 3 (privacy) by revealing the details of the officer’s sex change.

[7]   The complainant argued that “the detailed reporting of the police officer’s sex change was purely gratuitous and was of absolutely no interest to the public, except for its titillating content”. He contended that the disclosure was a “deep invasion of the officer’s privacy”.  


[8]   Standard 3 and guideline 3a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice and privacy principle 1 of the Authority’s Privacy Principles are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 3 Privacy

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

Guideline 3a

Broadcasters must comply with the privacy principles developed by the Broadcasting Standards Authority (Appendix 2).

Privacy principle 1

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   TVWorks argued that the reporting of the accident was “straightforward” and that the information about the officer’s sex change was already in the public domain. “In this instance and in this context the information was appropriate to include in the report,” it said.

[10]   The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the item had breached Standard 3. 

Referral to the Authority

[11]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Johnsson referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[12]   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.

[13]   When the Authority deals with a complaint that an individual's privacy has been breached, it must first consider whether the individual was identifiable in the broadcast. As the officer’s name was disclosed and footage of her was shown in the broadcast, it concludes that the officer was identifiable.

[14]   Second, the Authority must determine whether the broadcast disclosed private facts about the officer. The Authority notes that the July 2009 edition of the New Zealand Police online magazine Ten-One contained an article about the officer concerned. The article explained that the officer had won an award for her work with transgender people in the community and contained comment from the officer describing her transformation and the level of support she received from her work colleagues. The magazine is publicly available.

[15]   It is clear that the officer has not sought to keep her sex change out of the public domain and that she does not treat her change of gender as a “private fact”. In these circumstances, the Authority agrees with TVWorks that no “private facts” were revealed in the broadcast.

[16]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 3.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
23 March 2010


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

1.           Sven Johnsson’s formal complaint – 11 January 2010
2.          TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 18 January 2010
3.          Mr Johnsson’s referral to the Authority – 22 January 2010
4.          TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 9 February 2010