BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Lawrence and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2015-099 (14 April 2016)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Ian Lawrence
Number
2015-099
Programme
Story
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 4

Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

  An item on Story showed presenter Heather du Plessis-Allan purportedly exposing a loophole in New Zealand’s gun laws by falsifying a mail-order form and obtaining a firearm from a gun dealer without verifying that she held a gun licence. The Authority did not uphold a complaint alleging that the broadcast encouraged viewers to break the law. The item carried public interest, it was clearly meant to discourage flouting of gun laws rather than encourage illegal activity and the Police Association commended Story for exposing the issue.   Not Upheld: Law and Order    


Introduction 

[1]  An item on Story showed presenter Heather du Plessis-Allan allegedly exposing a loophole in New Zealand’s gun laws. She falsified a mail-order form and obtained a firearm from a gun dealer without verifying that she held a gun licence. The item went on to explain that the police would be investigating the loophole and attempting to remedy it.   [2]  Ian Lawrence complained that ‘[i]n essence [Ms du Plessis-Allan] broke the law to show others how they can break the law to obtain firearms illegally’.   [3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the law and order standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.   [4]  The item was broadcast on TV3 on 21 October 2015. 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 broadcast encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity?

[5]  The intent behind the law and order standard (Standard 2) is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal or antisocial activity.1 The standard exists to ensure that broadcasters refrain from broadcasting material which does not respect the laws which sustain our society.2    [6]  Mr Lawrence argued that Ms du Plessis-Allan had ‘used and showed fraudulent methods to obtain firearms illegally’ and ‘showed others how they can also break the law to obtain firearms illegally’.   [7]  MediaWorks argued that the purpose of the programme was ‘to expose a serious weakness in the gun laws that should be closed’. It said that ‘key aspects of the mail-order purchase process were omitted from the broadcast in order to prevent imitation’, and that ‘Story’s investigation led Police to revise their firearm mail-order vetting process, ensuring that people would not be able to purchase firearms in the same manner’. MediaWorks argued that the item did not encourage viewers to break the law or glamorise crime, and was ‘satisfied that it did not explain the techniques of crime in a manner which invite[d] imitation’.   [8]  It has previously been stated that the Authority’s role is to assess whether broadcasting standards have been breached, not whether a crime has been committed. Therefore, it is not for us to decide whether Ms du Plessis-Allan actually broke the law in obtaining a firearm (though we note this was the subject of a separate police investigation, and that ultimately Ms du Plessis-Allan was not charged3).    [9]  In any case, merely filming or broadcasting illegal behaviour is not sufficient to breach the standard.4 The standard also does not prohibit challenging or criticising a specific law. This is because the Authority recognises the importance of the right to freedom of expression and in a free and democratic society people must be allowed to question and challenge the law.5 The question for us is whether this broadcast encouraged viewers to break the law or glamorised crime in a manner that breached the standard.   [10]  Mr Lawrence’s main concern is that Ms du Plessis-Allan showed others how to break the law and obtain a firearm illegally. Guideline 2a to the law and order standard says that caution should be exercised in broadcasting items which explain the techniques of crime in a manner which invites imitation.    [11]  We do not agree that the broadcast explained to viewers how to fraudulently obtain a firearm without a gun licence. MediaWorks noted that key aspects of the mail-order process were left out of the item so that viewers would not be able to imitate Ms du Plessis-Allan’s actions in obtaining a gun. The presenter herself also explicitly stated in the item, ‘We’re not going to tell you exactly what we did. We don’t want to demonstrate how to do it.’ She referred only to using a ‘fake name and a fake gun licence’.   [12]  In any event, there was public interest in potentially exposing a concerning loophole in gun laws. We accept that the purpose of the broadcast, which was clearly noted upfront in the item, was ‘to expose a serious weakness in the gun laws that should be closed’. This objective was supported by the fact that, as noted in the item, the broadcaster notified the police once the gun had been obtained, the gun was placed in a safe and handed over to the police as soon as possible, and a gun licence holder supervised the delivery and subsequent handling of the gun.    [13]  Furthermore, the item included comment from the president of the Police Association who said that Story had done ‘good work’ in ‘exposing what is a very real issue’. It was reported at the end of the item that:

Police say they are going to make changes to gun ordering via mail-order. They say they will, from now on, be making this change: it won’t be gun buyers sending the mail-order forms, like we did, to the dealers. It will only be Police sending the forms in and Police say they will be contacting gun dealers about that.

 [14]  In this sense, the item arguably made it more difficult for people to flout gun laws, rather than having the effect alleged by the complainant of encouraging or enabling viewers to break the law. It was also reported that Story had interviewed the Police Minister who ‘confirmed that he is looking at online sales and mail-order sales of guns as part of, basically, what is a wider review looking at gun safety’.    [15]  Overall we are satisfied that the broadcast did not encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote or glamorise illegal activity and we therefore do not uphold the complaint under Standard 2.   For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.   Signed for and on behalf of the Authority       Peter Radich Chair 14 April 2016    

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:   1      Ian Lawrence’s formal complaint – 22 October 2015 2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 17 December 2015 3      Mr Lawrence’s referral to the Authority – 18 December 2015 4      MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 5 February 2016    


1 See, for example, Keane and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-082 2Hunt and Māori Television, Decision No. 2009-010 3 ‘Police won’t lay charges but du Plessis-Allan still potentially under the gun’, stuff.co.nz, 2 March 2016, http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/77458239/Police-won-t-lay-charges-but-du-Plessis-Allan-still-potentially-under-the-gun 4 See, for example, Preston and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-016 5 See, for example, Phair and Radio One, Decision No. 2011-140