A PARENT AGAINST THE WAIKATO TIMES

Case Number: 673

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 1997

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Waikato Times

The New Zealand Press Council has not upheld a complaint arising out of an article about teenage drinking published in the Waikato Times.

The Council however, thought there was another aspect which it might usefully comment on and is separate from the disputed factual issues. Excessive drinking by young persons is a clearly identified social problem which concerns ALAC, parents and groups interested in young persons. ALAC is working on a campaign to cut excessive drinking. The Council considered the purpose of the article would have been largely
achieved without specifically naming the young persons who could be disadvantaged by adverse publicity, as is claimed with this complaint. The Council appreciates newspapers seek to enhance credibility for an article by specifics, such as named sources, but on balance believes in an article on social issues, young people might be given greater name protection from statements given when being interviewed as a group in an informal setting at which some confusion could arise.

Because the factual disputes could not be resolved, the Council does not uphold the complaint but leaves it with the observations recorded above.

The article appeared in the Waikato Times on 20 August headlined “Teen Spirits.” The article could properly be described as one dealing with social issues of young drinkers. The Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) had, shortly before, reported on its investigations into drinking patterns of young persons in the district.

The article took the ALAC report further by speaking with several teenagers about the more exact details of their drinking habits. Drinking to excess, and its aftermath such as binge drinking and vomiting were referred to. Several of those interviewed by the reporter were named and the particular drinking claims made by them included in the article. The group interview took place in a local Foodcourt.

The parents of one 17 year old Hamilton girl complained that their daughter had been named without her permission and incorrectly reported as to what she had said. The newspaper reported she said she was ... “drunk last Friday and Saturday nights. She can remember most of what happened, but once a month she binges and forgets the night’s events.” The young woman in question later wrote to the editor on behalf of herself and others quoted in the article disputing the factual references as to what they had been told, and said themselves, and she denied she was aware she was to be reported by name. On 12 September it was the first letter in “Letters to the editor.”

The newspaper’s editor responded that she had checked with the reporter and her notes, and maintained the young woman in question knew the purpose of the interview, that she would be named and the statements of fact attributed to her were her own.

There is a very sharp dispute between the parties on vital matters of fact, which the Council is unable to resolve. Because it cannot do so does not mean either side is disbelieved, but the factual situation must be left there.