Channel Seven Brisbane’s breached the the broadcasting code of practice by leading viewers to believe two lawyers acting for a man who had infected a partner with HIV had been criticised by a judge for not having a case ready in time. In fact defendant Godfrey Zaburoni had changed lawyers, meaning the two men depicted were not the ones who had failed to prepare.

“The identity of the lawyers who had received the criticism was not mentioned, and no up-to-date video was shown. This led to the potential for members of the legal community, and the public, to conclude that [those shown instead] had received the criticism,” a complaint lodged shortly after the broadcast said.

In a ruling made public yesterday, the Australian Communications and Media Authority says Seven believed “no correction or clarification was required”. The broadcaster argued that the footage used was clearly archival, and that there was nothing in the image used that would have suggested to the ordinary viewer that the two people depicted were the lawyers mentioned in the voice-over, as they weren’t walking with Zaburoni in court and weren’t wearing anything that would indicate they were lawyers. Seven said it hadn’t been aware Zaburoni had changed lawyers, but the network nonetheless argued a clarification or apology wasn’t necessary:

“The brief, fleeting depictions of these unnamed persons, especially in a short news report, are unlikely to cause the ordinary reasonable viewer to draw the inference that they were Mr Zaburoni’s legal counsel for the previous trial — let alone to make the additional inference that it was these same legal counsel that were criticised by the judge in the subsequent hearing.”

ACMA disagreed, saying the depiction of the image immediately following the voice-over in which the judge criticised the lawyers would lead a reasonable person to guess that was who the judge had been referring to. The story, ACMA said, was as much about Zaburoni’s legal representation as it was about Zaburoni himself. ACMA says Seven could have learned about the change of legal counsel. Given this, as well as the fact that Seven didn’t issue an apology despite being made aware of the complaint a week after broadcast, the network was found in breach of the accuracy requirements of the code, as well as the requirement to correct or clarify errors.

Seven Brisbane has agreed to tell its newsroom about the ACMA ruling, and to include references to it in future training. — Myriam Robin