TVNZ has been ordered to pay $750 compensation after the reality show Dog Squad was found to have breached the privacy of a man it strongly implied was in possession of illegal drugs.
The man complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) after he was featured in a September 2011 episode of the show, which follows dog handlers who work for police, prisons and Customs.
The episode showed the man and his partner being questioned by dog handlers at Waikeria Prison after he apparently took a wrong turn.
After a search of the car, the dog handler said: "Your body language and everything told me you looked pretty nervous. I didn't even need the dog to know that there was something in the car, or drugs had been used in that car."
The handler told the man he would not be arrested, but added: "We are going to confiscate that, ok?"
At the end of the segment, a voiceover said: "Chastised and banned from prison property, the couple head for their party."
The man complained to TVNZ, alleging the broadcast was in "direct violation of my rights, and shows a clear disregard for my wishes and concerns".
He had requested not to be filmed, and told the cameraman he did not want the footage broadcast on national television.
The BSA noted the broadcaster did not name the man and pixellated both his and his partner's faces, as well as the car number plate.
But the segment also included recordings of their voices, shots of the car, and several full-length shots of the couple which showed their "distinctive body shapes and clothing".
The BSA found the pixellation was insufficient to properly conceal the couple's facial features, and the man was identifiable beyond just close family and friends.
The authority rejected TVNZ's submission that it was "too long a bow" to infer the man was involved in illegal activity.
It found while viewers were told he was not arrested, there was a "strong suggestion" the man was in possession of or had consumed illegal drugs.
The complainant said the broadcast had caused "irreversible damage to his reputation", including the loss of trust and respect from his employer and co-workers.
The BSA found the footage disclosed private information "in a manner that was highly offensive" and its public interest value was not serious enough to outweigh the complainant's right to privacy.
TVNZ submitted that upholding the complaint would be an unjustifiable restriction on free speech, which would have "chilling effect" on reality TV programming.
But the BSA said footage of the kind shown on Dog Squad would not always amount to a breach of broadcasting standards.
"Such footage can be broadcast if the participants are not identifiable, if they have provided informed consent, or if there is legitimate public interest in the material disclosed."
The BSA suppressed the complainant's name and ordered TVNZ pay him $750 compensation.
Under the Broadcasting Act, only breaches of privacy qualify for compensation to the complainant.
The maximum amount of compensation is $5000, depending on the circumstances and the seriousness of the breach.
BSA legal manager Patricia Windle said there had been three awards for breach of privacy since last July, including the Dog Squad case.
The authority can also award costs of any amount to the complainant, usually to reimburse legal costs, or costs of up to $5000 to the Crown, in cases where there is a serious departure from broadcasting standards.
Five orders of costs to complainants and three orders of costs to the Crown have been made since last July.