The Australian Communications and Media Authority has found that Channel Seven Perth Pty Ltd (Channel Seven) breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2010 (the code) in an item on its Seven News program broadcast on 7 January 2014.
The news segment reported on an accident in Perth in which a motorcyclist died. The vision of the accident scene included close-up footage of three items—a motorcycle top box, a black backpack and a white plastic bag, which, in combination, was distinctive to immediate family members.
The ACMA found that Channel Seven did not take all reasonable steps to avoid indirectly identifying the victim before his immediate family had been notified by authorities.
This breached a clause of the code designed to ensure that a victim’s family did not experience the added distress of learning of accidents from a television broadcast rather than through official channels.
‘This case serves as a reminder that reporting on accident victims involves inherent sensitivities and must be approached with extra care,’ said ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman. ‘Broadcasters need to be very sensitive about the identification of accident victims, directly and, in particular, indirectly.’
In response to the finding, Channel Seven has agreed to bring the ACMA’s decision to the attention of its news and current affairs staff, and include reference to the decision in its training courses concerning the code.
For more information, please see the Backgrounder below, or please contact: Blake Murdoch, on (02) 9334 7817, 0434 567 391 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clause 4.3.8—identification of victims before notification by authorities
Clause 4.3.8 of the code provides that ‘in broadcasting news and current affairs programs, licensees must take all reasonable steps to ensure that murder or accident victims are not identified directly or, where practicable, indirectly before their immediate families are notified by the authorities’.
The ACMA found that the news item breached the clause as:
the news item indirectly identified the victim before immediate family had been formally notified by showing close-up footage of three items belonging to the victim at the accident scene; and
that while Channel Seven took some steps to avoid identifying the victim, the ACMA considered that it did not take all reasonable and practicable steps.
The ACMA noted that each case must be considered on its own circumstances. In this case, the relevant circumstances included:
the intervening period between the accident and news item was relatively short, making it less likely that authorities had notified immediate family
the close-up footage was not critical to the news item and could have been omitted, pixelated, blurred or otherwise obscured
the combination of the three items provided identifying information that was distinctive to immediate family members
the parents of the victim immediately recognised the three items as belonging to their son.
The regulatory framework-broadcasting content regulation
Under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA), Australian radio and television licensees have primary responsibility for ensuring that the material they broadcast reflects community standards. Many aspects of program content are governed by codes of practice developed by industry groups representing the various Australian broadcasting sectors. The ACMA registers codes (other than those of the national broadcasters, the ABC and SBS) once it is satisfied that broadcasters have undertaken public consultation and the codes contain appropriate community safeguards.
The ACMA may:
investigate complaints about compliance with the BSA or licence conditions
investigate complaints about compliance with code obligations, where the complainant has complained to the licensee and is dissatisfied with its response
commence an 'own motion' investigation into compliance with the BSA, licence conditions or code obligations.
Additional information about, and copies of, the ACMA’s published broadcasting investigations reports are available here.
Responding to breaches
Where there has been a breach of code or practice, the ACMA may:
agree to accept measures offered by the broadcaster to improve compliance (these measures can include educating staff or changing procedures to improve compliance with the rule(s)
agree to accept an enforceable undertaking offered by the broadcaster for the purpose of securing future compliance with the rule(s)
impose an additional licence condition.
The ACMA cannot ‘fine’ or ‘prosecute’ a broadcaster for breaching a code, or direct it to do any particular thing (such as broadcast a report of the ACMA’s findings).