A Northland man whose arrest for possession of a small amount of cannabis was shown on TV2's Police Ten 7 programme had his privacy breached, in what the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) says is a "landmark decision" regarding filming reality television.
It has ordered TVNZ to pay the man $1500 in compensation for breach of privacy and the Crown costs of $1000.
The episode of Police Ten 7, which aired on July 1 last year, showed police executing a search warrant at a property, from which the occupant had allegedly been dealing drugs. It showed the man initially denying there were drugs at the house, but later admitting the cannabis found belonged to him. He was shown saying, "I've already been to court for cannabis because I say I've got emphysema... I smoke marijuana for my health issues."
The item ended by saying there was no evidence the man was dealing or growing cannabis, but that he was charged with possession and fined $150.
He complained to the BSA his and his family's privacy had been breached and they had received unwanted attention from people they hardly knew.
No family member had signed or returned a TVNZ form asking for the footage being broadcast, he said.
In response, TVNZ said the complainant's face was blurred, his personal details removed and identifying features of his property edited out. The man's wife and brother were shown for only 20 seconds, their faces blurred.
He "spoke freely" in front of the camera and no one asked the camera crew to leave, TVNZ said.
Because the complainant was not identified in the broadcast and his cannabis use was a matter of public record, TVNZ argued that a consent form was not required to screen the footage.
In its decision, the BSA acknowledged police initially thought the complainant was involved in selling cannabis, and the broadcaster may have felt this justified the camera crew's presence. However, the search established that the man was not selling drugs.
Although the complainant was convicted and given a small fine for drug possession, any reasonable person in his shoes would have found the intrusion of a camera crew into their home filming the police raid to be highly offensive, the BSA said.
Although the man was not named and his face was pixellated, several full-length shots of him meant he would have been identifiable beyond close family and friends, the BSA said.
The family was likely to have had little or no experience in dealing with the media and therefore would not have known that they could ask the camera crew to leave.
It was reasonable for the complainant to expect the footage not to be shown, the BSA said.
"We consider that any reasonable person would have understood it to mean that if they did not sign the consent form and return it to the producer then the footage would not be broadcast."
TVNZ had genuinely believed it had taken sufficient steps to conceal the complainant's identity, and the "landmark decision" set out broadcasters' responsibilities with regard to aspects of filming reality television.
The BSA said that the decision did not mean that all items shown on Police Ten 7 would necessarily breach broadcasting standards.
"Such footage can be broadcast if the participants are not identifiable, if they have provided informed consent, or if there is a legitimate public interest in the material disclosed," the BSA said.