Seven News coverage of bike death could be first major test of new privacy rules

Seven News is under growing pressure over the question of whether it intruded into the privacy of a mother whose daughter had died in a quad bike accident.

A family friend has published a detailed post questioning the network’s version of events in a move that makes it increasingly likely that the complaint may be among the first tests of the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s new privacy guidelines.

As Mumbrella reported yesterday, Linda Goldspink-Lord claimed that Seven News invaded her privacy through use of helicopter shots of her with her daughter’s body. Seven denies this.

She accused the network of causing “pain and harassment” and claimed that a journalist was on private property. Her comments on the Seven News Facebook page were deleted by the network.

Yesterday Seven apologised for the deletion with Chris Willis, director of news at Seven News Sydney saying it had been done in error. He also suggested it was another television station on the family’s property.

But family friend Amanda Fanning today took to the network’s Facebook page to say that she had asked the Seven crew to leave the property on two occasions and threatened to call the police. She claimed others had also asked them to leave. She said she had also attempted to call Willis while the crew was still at the scene and he had declined to take her call. She wrote:

“A member of your crew gave me the number to call and told me to speak to the News Director. I assume that he didn’t have the power to leave because he expressed a very clear desire to be anywhere else. As mentioned in my post yesterday, I called the number, and the girl who answered the phone said I couldn’t talk to the News Director, and asked what my call was in relation to. When I told her, she asked me to hold on again, and that she would put me through. She came back on the line and said ‘sorry, but we ARE going to cover this story’.”

The ACMA privacy guidelines were tightened up in December, after Ten was accused of invading the privacy of a man whose family was injured in a boating accident. Eventually no breach was found because although extended footage was aired of the distressed survivor, the previous guidelines did not offer sufficient guidance on invasion of an individual’s privacy in traumatic circumstances as they focused on protection of personal affairs on information.

The guidelines now state that “A person’s seclusion may be intruded upon where: he or she would have a reasonable expectation that his or her activities would not be observed or overheard by others; and a person of ordinary sensibilities would consider the broadcast of these activities to be highly offensive.”

A further factor in the case may be that there are special provisions covering the privacy of children. However, the ACMA would also weigh up the fact that the image of the girl’s body was used only as a long shot. The regulator would also only be able to assess the material that was aired, rather than specific behaviour of the crew.

Journalists visiting the scene of tragedies and attempting to speak to bereaved people is not automatically seen as unethical when conducted with discretion. Such practices are relatively commonplace in news operations across the world. The Media Alliance Code of Ethics states: “Respect private grief and personal privacy. Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.”

Although the ACMA can initiate its own investigation, the normal procedure is for all complaints to be handled by the network in question for the first 60 days. Mumbrella understands that the family has not yet made a formal complaint to the network.

A spokesman for Seven told Mumbrella:  We are seeking to arrange a time to speak to Ms Goldspink-Lord.” Seven did not respond to the question of whether there ahs yet been a formal complaint.

The spokesman added: “”Specifically, we did not show any pictures of Mrs Goldspink-Lord and her deceased daughter. Not on air and not on our web site.”

While the story is likely to be a first test of the new privacy guidelines, there have already been high profile issues this year. In April Nine’s A Current Affair aired a lurid story about Clive James’ personal life. However, no complaint was made so the case was not investigated.


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