A.J.MANNING AGAINST THE SUNDAY STAR-TIMES

Case Number: 640

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 1996

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Sunday-Star Times

The Press Council has rejected a complaint that a Sunday Star-Times reporter used deception to elicit information for use in a story on the killing of Tania Furlan.

Tania Furlan’s killing on 28 July received widespread coverage in the media, particularly because her six-week-old child was abducted and later found abandoned in the Auckland suburb of Royal Oak. The complaint related to a series of telephone calls Sunday Star-Times reporter Lee Umbers allegedly made to Jane Furlan, Tania Furlan’s mother-in-law in Canberra.

The complaint was made by Detective Inspector A.J.Manning, who headed the police investigation into the death of Tania Furlan. Mr Manning said Mrs Furlan was telephoned at her home on 8 August by a man who identified himself as John and claimed to be an acquaintance of her son Victor, Tania Furlan’s husband. The man said he lived near Victor in Auckland, and that his son played soccer for the same club Victor played for.

The man rang back three more times wanting to speak to Victor, but only on the final occasion identified himself as Lee Umbers. Information obtained during the telephone calls subsequently appeared in the Star-Times on 11 August. Mrs Furlan was upset at what she regarded as deception and a breach of her and her son’s privacy and personal grief. Mr Maning included a statement from Mrs Furlan which outlined the four telephone calls made to her.

In response, the editor of the Sunday Star-Times Michael Forbes said Mr Umbers rejected any suggestion he had misled Mrs Furlan. Mr Umbers had made only three telephone calls to her home, and had identified himself properly each time. Mr Forbes said Mr Umbers worked near three other desks and his colleagues knew of the calls he was making. They would have noted any misrepresentations on Mr Umbers’ part. They did not.

The Press Council would view any deception seriously, but on this occasion it accepts there was no misrepresentation on the part of Mr Umbers. The newspaper’s account of the events was quite clear. In the Council’s view Mrs Furlan, who was presumably receiving many calls offering sympathy, may have misheard the call or mistaken another caller for Mr Umbers.

Accordingly the Council rejected the complaint.