COMPLAINT AGAINST THE SPINOFF

Case Number: 2740

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2018

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Spinoff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Photographs
Privacy

Overview

In September 2018, David Farrier interviewed Brent Hayward for a long-form human interest article.The interview was prompted by a video Farrier took of Hayward on Piha beach with two dogs and posted on social media that went, by Farrier’s description, ‘viral’.

During the course of the interview Farrier took a series of photos of Hayward.One was with Hayward with a parrot and this was published in September on Farrier’s Instagram account.The article on Hayward was published in November onThe Spinoff titled “Two dogs, one ukulele and the extraordinary man who played it”. It included a series of photos of Hayward at a residential location. Hayward advised Farrier that he was housesitting and the parrot was owned by the housesitter.

The Complaint

The owner of the house that Hayward was house sitting and owner of parrots and one of the dogs in the video has complained aboutThe Spinoff article.She discovered the photo of a parrot she thought to be hers on Farrier’s Instagram and asked him to remove it.He did so.

Written correspondence from the owner to Farrier before the publication of the article outlines her further objections.She argues that her house sitter was not permitted to have guests and Farrier breached her privacy by being on her property, taking photos and using the photos in his article.She made these complaints directly to Farrier before the publication of the article.

She further argues that statements in the final article are inaccurate.Specifically she states that Hayward has abandoned his dog and left it with her in a poor condition.She argues that Hayward is portrayed as caring animal lover when the reality is different.She also questions the accuracy of statements about Hayward’s ankle.

The Response

Farrier replies that he was invited by Hayward to the property in question and was made aware that Hayward was housesitting.Farrier has conducted ‘a lot of interviews in the past with people in houses that they don’t own’.No mention was made by Hayward that he was not allowed visitors.Farrier also states that he avoided taking photos that would expose the location, owner or address of the house he was in.

He also states that the article was written from his perspective and does not contain any inaccuracies.

The Decision

Three Principles are raised in the course of this complaint:(1) Privacy:Everyone is normally entitled to privacy of person, space and personal information, and these rights should be respected by publications. Nevertheless the right of privacy should not interfere with publication of significant matters of public record or public interest and (2) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance: Publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance, and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission andPrinciple 12 Corrections: A publication’s willingness to correct errors enhances its credibility and, often, defuses complaint. Significant errors should be promptly corrected with fair prominence.

In terms of the complaints about accuracy, the Media Council, using the test of its principle, can see no attempt to mislead the reader.Statements about the ankle injury are made in a speculative way and the interview is based on the material provided by its subject – Hayward. Likewise - the complaint about Corrections - The Spinoff removed a photo promptly.

The issue of the breach of Privacy needs more in-depth thought.Farrier has taken and published photos of a dog and been on a property without the specific permission of the owner.The complainant argues, his being there was a direct violation of the agreement she had with her house-sitter.She also pointed this out to Farrier before the publication of the article and specifically asked that photos of her pets not be included in the article.

However, Farrier was invited onto the property and entered in good faith.He was given permission by Hayward to photograph the property and pets.Considering the photographs included with the article, he did take photos of the property in a way that it would be difficult to identify it.It was Hayward who broke his agreement with the owner, not Farrier.While the owner has, unfortunately, been let down by her house sitter and this has created distress for her, the article cannot be viewed as a breach of her privacy.

The complaint is Not Upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.