Can news media publish photos of car crash victims?

The Privacy Act doesn’t apply to the collection and reporting of news and current affairs, so we aren’t able to investigate complaints about the actions of newspapers and other news media.

The news media are subject to Codes of Practice that include privacy standards. 

The publication of a photo of a person who died in a car crash taken from a publicly accessible webpage (such as Facebook) would not generally breach media privacy standards, even though it may be insensitive and against the wishes of family members and friends of the deceased but the publication of private material in a manner that would be considered highly offensive to the person affected could be a privacy breach depending on the circumstances.

But the news media are subject to other privacy laws that limit publicity where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the circumstances.  One couple sued news media who filmed them being extricated from a car wreck (Andrews v TVNZ, High Court, 2006) but on the facts of that case, the claim did not succeed because the filming did not show the couple “in a bad light”. 

If you want to make a complaint about the actions of the news media, the three industry bodies that regulate the news media are the Press Council (external link) , the Broadcasting Standards Authority (external link) and the Online Media Standards Authority (external link) .

You might also want to read out blog posts on privacy and the news media.  You can find them here (external link) and here (external link) .

The Privacy Act does apply to other news gatherers, such as ‘citizen journalists’. 

While there is a Privacy Act exemption that allows personal use, that exemption does not allow personal information to be published if an ordinary person would consider it to be “highly offensive”. There is also an exception for publishing personal information that is already publicly available as long as it’s not unfair or unreasonable to do so in the circumstances.