CARON FLETCHER AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 2389
Council Meeting: AUGUST 2014
Verdict: Not Upheld
Headlines and Captions
Balance, Lack Of
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
On July 4, 2014, Stuff published a story on a Women’s Refuge Symposium on domestic violence which carried the headline: “David Cunliffe: I’m sorry for being a man”.
The symposium followed the government’s newly announced initiatives to curb domestic violence in New Zealand and gave political parties the opportunity to present their policies on domestic violence.
The story focused on Labour Leader David Cunliffe’s address to the symposium, in which he criticised the government’s approach to the problem and outlined Labour’s policy on domestic violence. In his speech Mr Cunliffe stated: “I don’t often say it – I’m sorry for being a man because family and sexual violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men.”
Ms Fletcher cited Principles 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance), 5 (Headlines and Captions) and 8 (Subterfuge) in her complaint about the story headline, which she described as “shocking” and “offensive”.
She asserted that the whole point of the symposium had been lost because Stuff had taken a serious issue and made it “gutter press”.
Ms Fletcher was highly critical of the journalist who wrote the report because she believed she had also written the headline. She said she was “disgusted” with the journalist, and accused her of bias.
She requested that the article be removed from the Stuff website immediately.
In email correspondence with Ms Fletcher, Stuff editor Glen Scanlon said the headline had not been written by the journalist but by a web subeditor. He agreed that headlines are a way to get people reading a story, and they were sometimes provocative, but said the headline in question reflected exactly what Mr Cunliffe had said at the symposium.
Ms Fletcher’s response was that it was a “cheap shot at the extreme end of what is proper and right”, and suggested the editor “should keep his bias to himself”.
In the response to the Press Council Stuff denied there had been any breach of the Press Council principles.
Addressing Principle 1, Accuracy Fairness and Balance, the editor said the report was an accurate one that reflected what Mr Cunliffe said at the meeting.
The editor referred to the email exchange with the complainant, which pointed out that nearly 75 percent of original piece covered Labour’s domestic violence policy.
He said the story had subsequently been updated to include comment from the Women’s Refuge chief executive, Heather Henare, the government minister for social development, Paula Bennett, and later, from the prime minister. There was also a video link with reaction, a call for comments from readers, and a Stuff Nation writing assignment asking readers to present their solutions.
He submitted that this was evidence of the length Stuff had gone to ensure the story was accurate, fair and balanced.
On Principle 5, Headlines and Captions, the editor stated that the headline accurately reflected what Mr Cunliffe said at the meeting.
As noted in his original reply to the complainant, he said that headlines may be considered provocative at times, but that didn’t make them wrong. He rebutted Ms Fletcher’s claim that he had said the headline “was done to rile up readership”.
On Principle 8, Subterfuge, the editor said Mr Cunliffe was speaking at a public event, and this was directly reported on. There was no subterfuge.
David Cunliffe’s apology to women at the Women’s Refuge Symposium in July was controversial, and in the ensuing weeks it polarized the public and provoked considerable debate.
Mr Cunliffe’s colourful language in his speech when he referred to the “bullshit, deep-seated sexism” prevalent in New Zealand, and the “I’m sorry to be a man” apology meant any journalist who attended the symposium would have reported it; such a strong statement from a senior politician was newsworthy and is of public interest.
The complainant criticizes the headline for being “a deliberate attempt to garner reaction”. It was certainly provocative, but as the editor pointed out, that does not make it wrong.
Headlines frequently contain part quotes as a way to get readers’ interest. That is their function. The full quote was in the third paragraph of the story, which also contained Mr Cunliffe’s criticism of the government initiatives, outlined Labour’s policies, and provided comment from other sources. It was a fair and accurate representation of the story. It did not breach any Press Council principles.
The complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.