GENEVIEVE MCCLEAN AGAINST NZHERALD ONLINE

Case Number: 2292

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2012

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Tragedies, Offensive Handling of
Sensationalism

Introduction
Genevieve McClean complains against nzherald.co.nz for a video of a car smash in an Auckland suburb.
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10830981

The complaint is not upheld

Background
The complainant is a friend of the driver of a car which rammed into a suburban Auckland dairy. In the minutes following impact the scene was filmed by a bystander who made his footage available to the New Zealand Herald and it was posted on nzherald.co.nz A news item about the crash was added a short time later.

The Complaint
Ms McClean complains that the video is gratuitous, does not promote any news value, is voyeurism and disadvantages the victim and the victim’s family who should be shown special consideration due to their trauma and stress. She asked nzherald.co.nz to remove the video from the website to avoid further distress to the victim’s family who were thought, at the time of the complaint, to be unaware of the video’s existence.
Additionally, she argued the video would be highly offensive to an objective reasonable person and was kept on the net only to entertain, shock or titillate. She also argued that the video might seem innocuous to a viewer who did not know the victim.

The Response
nzherald.co.nz, while acknowledging the complainant’s perspective and the emotional distress caused by the accident, argued that it was a useful accompaniment to a news story about a serious incident upon which a news organisation had a duty to report. It did not breach the privacy of the victim. News organisations unfortunately sometimes had to show images that may upset some people.

Discussion
The video is 1 minute 16 seconds in length. It was shot from the opposite side of the road to the scene of the accident. The accident occurred at 9pm so the light is dim and the quality of the footage very grainy. It has poor audio with no sound for the greater proportion of the video. The video is titled:
Raw video: Pursued car smashes into corner dairy
New Zealand Herald reader video
The vehicle is identifiable only as far as its colour (grey) and style (station wagon or people mover). No registration plate is visible.
The driver of the vehicle is not visible nor identified on the video as either male or female though the accompanying story does identify the driver as a woman (un-named).
As to the audio, nzherald.co.nz says the video was edited only once and that was prior to it being loaded to the site. That edit removed a portion in which bystanders were apparently heard debating the circumstances of the crash.
This is at odds with the complainant’s view that “horrifyingly you can hear groans of the victim as she is cut from the car wreck before medics arrive”. The complainant says this part of the audio was removed subsequent to her complaint. However, nzherald.co.nz says that sounds from the victim may be audible at the very start of the video if viewers have the capacity for high volume but no ‘groaning of the victim’ was ever heard.

Decision
Bystander video is a regular feature of news websites and often very valuable in helping to inform the public about events of interest.
The video at the heart of this complaint is not of sufficient quality to add more than a distant-bystander perspective to a story about a suburban car crash.
Played at normal volume Council members could discern no groaning sounds from the victim; even at highest volume the sounds were virtually imperceptible.
Motor vehicle accidents, whatever the cause, are dreadful events often with shocking and traumatic results for their victims. The news media has an important role to play in documenting the cost of accidents and in reminding drivers of the consequences.
A careful balance is required to protect those suffering from grief and trauma while avoiding censoring coverage of the human cost of accidents. It is not considered this video fails that test.
Accordingly the complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind and Stephen Stewart.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.