the Press Council
In case no. 2009-6-0796
on Tuesday, 21 April 2009, the Press Council issued the following
R u l i n g:
On behalf of C, Attorney Lauge Fastrup has lodged a complaint with the Press Council about a programme on TV 2 on 11 November 2008, claiming that sound press ethics have been breached (“the Complaint”).
1 Summary of Complaint
On 11 November 2008, TV 2 broadcast the programme “Forbryderjagt” (Pursuing Criminals), where the viewer follows the police officers P1 and P2. The programme cuts between footage from the police officers’ workday and interviews with them. The following is an excerpt from the programme:
“[The text ‘Skive Midtby’ (Skive town centre) appears on the screen.]
Voiceover: P1and P2 make up the regular drug-patrol unit of Skive Police Department. In recent years, they have been deeply committed to removing drugs from the nightlife scene by intensively patrolling discotheques and pubs.
P1, police officer: Before conducting a search, we will have received at least two reports from independent sources. We do this because it is a very serious affront to someone if we enter the individual’s residence and it turns out there is nothing at all of interest to the police there. In the course of this joint effort, the two of us have conducted between 80 and 90 searches. And there was a single time where we left the premises without anything at all.
Voiceover: It is rumoured that two previous offenders are selling drugs together. P2 and P1 now pay a visit to the men.
[The picture on the screen shows the police officers walking towards the house. The officers walk through an alley to get to the Complainant’s residence.
The house facade is shown. The street name and number of the house are not visible.]
P2, police officer: Hi, open the door, would you please? Please open the door. This is the police. You have one second to open up before I kick down the door.
P1: Hey, hey! [Addressed to the house’s resident inside.] Kick the door open [addressed to the other police officer]. Can you open the door?
C: I’m on my way.
P1: Like hell you were on your way. You were bloody not on your way, not at all. You were on your way here, out there. You were on your way out there. You were on your way out there.
C (Face blurred by a ‛moon’. A few objects in the residence are also blurred): Out where?
P1: Out where? Out there. Through your door. Your front door. It’s not out in your kitchen. What were you doing out there?
P2: Where is it?
Voiceover: The man didn’t manage to get rid of his drugs. Something the police occasionally experience when they’re on the way in.
P1: What the hell, man? I thought we could trust one another.
P2: Don’t do that bloody number, [C’s middle name], don’t ever do it again.
P1: Are you back dealing again?
P1 (in an interview, addressing the camera): The worst are obviously the most desperate individuals. Their limits to who they’ll sell to are probably lower than for those who can keep their habit under control. The worst are the individuals who sell to young children, of course. Young teenagers, 13 or 14 years old.
P1 (back in the house): We just came in because we wanted to talk, for Christ’s sake.
C: Talk? What do you want to talk to me about? …
P1: Who’re you kidding, man? When we see something like that, we assume that that’s half a kilo you’re trying to get rid of. So how much is there?
C: I don’t know. About three.
P1: Okay. It’s not hard to figure out when we look through the window and see you running to the kitchen instead of coming over and opening the door.
Voiceover: The two men had almost six grams of amphetamine between them. P1 and P2 can’t prove that drugs were being sold today, but the men are fined for violating the Danish Drug Act. For the second and third time, respectively. The fines are DKK 9,000 and DKK 16,000.
P1: They have to get the feeling we’re present in the nightlife environment or at home where they live. We’ve gradually realised that we will never stop their drug abuse or even drug dealing, not for the hardcore offenders, at least. But the very impact of us being there, weekend after weekend, week after week, has invariably made some kind of impact.”
Footage is shown from other locations before the following is stated in the programme:
“Voiceover: P1and P2 are 20 kilometres north of Skive in a small village. They are following a tip about strange nightly activities in a house with blinded basement windows.”
The police officers visit the property. It is not the Complainant’s residence.
In a letter of 20 January 2009 to Attorney Lauge Fastrup, the Police of Mid- and West Jutland stated that the search and recordings were made on 12 September 2008. The following appears from the letter:
”It is correct that your client’s middle name “[C’s middle name]” is mentioned, but the implicated police force members are of the opinion that this does not suffice to identify him, as he and special characteristics of his flat were blurred. The shots do not reveal in which area he lives or which town the police visited.”
It appears from The agreement with the press between TV 2 Østjylland (Eastern Jutland) and the Police of Mid- and West Jutland regarding a TV programme about the Local Patrol in Skive that the TV station was permitted to follow the work of the police during the period from 11 September 2008 to 15 October 2008. The following appears from the agreement:
”3. Photographing, film and/or sound recordings in non-public places may only take place if the affected persons give their consent to the press. Such consent can be withdrawn at any time, and the press shall then immediately stop the photographing or film and/or sound recordings. Valid consent cannot be given by minors and incapacitated persons or persons who are unable to understand the importance of their consent due to their psychological condition or the influence of alcohol, drugs, medicine or the like…
4. Consent cannot be given for taking photos or making film and/or sound recordings during police business in private homes.
6. It is a condition that sound press ethics are observed.”
The agreement of 21 August 2008 was replaced by a new agreement on 29 September 2008 that extended the period during which the TV station could follow the work of the police until 31 October 2008. However, clause 4 regarding filming in private homes was not included in the agreement of 29 September 2008. However, TV 2 has stated that the omission of this clause does not reflect an alteration of substance, as the conditions set out in clause 4 in the agreement of 21 August 2008 were also to be observed under the agreement of 29 September 2008.
2 The Parties’ allegations
2.1 C’s allegations
Attorney Lauge Fastrup has stated that it was mentioned in the introduction to the programme that the location was Nykøbing Mors. C can be identified on the basis of the information and pictures in the programme as well as the statement: “Don’t do that bloody number, [C’s middle name], don’t ever do it again”. The Complainant has been known by his middle name since his childhood. The identity of the property in which he lives appears in the programme, and the area around it is filmed. It is stated that the police are operating on the island of Mors 20 km north of Skive. C was recognised in the programme by an acquaintance’s 11-year-old daughter, who merely knows the Complainant superficially.
Without the Complainant’s consent, TV 2 has filmed and broadcast footage from his private home. This is a violation of the Complainant’s rights to privacy. During the search, the Complainant insisted in vain on being told who the person with the camera was and what the cameraman was doing, and he asked the cameraman to leave the flat. It appears from the programme that the word “police” is called (outside the door to the residence) and not “police and TV 2”. The Complainant did not consent to participating in a TV programme. Despite the nature and content of the programme, TV 2 did not obtain the Complainant’s consent before broadcasting it.
The editing of the programme leaves the impression that C sells drugs, including to “young children”. It is stated in the programme that the two persons involved are previous offenders who sell drugs. The Complainant has not dealt in drugs and has not been convicted of drug dealing. The statement “P1 and P2 can’t prove that drugs were being sold today” gives the impression that the two persons had previously been convicted of drug dealing. C has been convicted of possessing hashish and speed for his own use, but not for sale. The information about the number of fines for violating the Danish Drug Act (“for the second and third time, respectively”) indicates that TV 2 has unlawfully used personal data that has allegedly been obtained from the police.
C has a severe stuttering problem accompanied by violent tremors. When filmed, he therefore appears pathetic and guilty, and he is portrayed in a demeaning manner to those who know him.
2.2 TV 2’s allegations
TV 2 has stated that no information is given about the exact geographic location. The Complainant, his friend and easily recognisable objects in his residence are blurred. For this reason, and as the Complainant’s first name is Martin, he cannot be identified by a wide circle of persons. An Internet search for the name “[C’s middle name]” and “Nykøbing Mors” or “Skive” produces four persons with the name “[C’s middle name]”. None of these persons is the Complainant. Therefore, the Complainant can only be recognised by persons who are normally around the address or are acquainted with the Complainant.
In connection with the recordings made for the programme, TV 2’s cameraman followed the police into the Complainant’s residence. The journalist (who participated in the recordings but did not go into the house) has stated that she subsequently viewed/listened to the recordings, and confirms that the Complainant said OK to the filming. Consent need not be given in writing, but may also be implicit, as in this case.
After the filming, the police were able to preview the recordings. If the Complainant had made a request on the spot or subsequently, asking that the footage not be broadcast, the police would have objected to the broadcast.
In addition, TV 2 has stated that the programme did not clearly indicate which of the two persons present lived at the address. TV 2 denies that the programme gives the impression that drugs are sold to “young children” from the Complainant’s address. Interviews with the two police officers have been inserted at various points in the programme. The voiceover regarding sales to children was not directed specifically at the Complainant, and he is not presented in a pathetic or demeaning manner.
3 The Press Council’s reasoned ruling:
The following members of the Press Council participated in investigating the Complaint: Thomas Rørdam, Jan Kristensen, Lene Sarup and John Meinert Jacobsen.
It appears from the guidelines for sound press ethics that statements that may violate the right to privacy should be avoided unless the release of information is clearly of public interest; see item B.1.
The Press Council finds that the work of the police is clearly a matter of public interest. However, the Press Council finds that the specific footage from C’s residence does not have such news or information value as to warrant broadcasting the violating footage without his consent. The Press Council finds that TV 2 has not substantiated that C validly consented to the broadcast of the footage. As C can be identified on the basis of the relevant footage, the Press Council condemns TV 2 for broadcasting the footage.
Moreover, the Press Council finds that particularly the statement “can’t prove that drugs were being sold today” gives the erroneous impression that C has sold drugs on other occasions. As the Complainant has not been convicted of drug dealing, and no other documentation exists in evidence hereof, the Press Council condemns TV 2.
Pursuant to section 49 of the Danish Media Liability Act, the Press Council orders the editor-in-chief of TV 2 to publish the following statement:
”The Press Council has condemned TV 2 for footage broadcast in November 2008 in the programme series Forbryderjagt (Pursuing Criminals).
Before the programme, a camera crew had followed police officers on the job with the consent of the police. In that connection, footage was shot during a visit to a private home where the occupants were fined for possessing drugs. One of the persons portrayed complained to the Press Council because he did not consent to the broadcast of the footage, and because the programme gives the impression that he had sold drugs on other occasions.
The Press Council has condemned TV 2 because, prior to broadcasting the footage, TV 2 failed to obtain the consent of the person portrayed, who could be identified despite the blurred picture. The Press Council has also condemned TV 2 for giving the erroneous impression that the Complainant sold drugs.
The complete ruling of the Press Council is available at its website: pressenaevnet.dk.”