DENIS SNELGAR AGAINST THE SUNDAY STAR-TIMES

Case Number: 819

Council Meeting: May 2001

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Sunday-Star Times

Ruling Categories: Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Headlines and Captions
Photographs
Accuracy

The New Zealand Press Council has not uphold a complaint by Denis Snelgar, Chief Executive Officer of Northland Polytechnic, against the Sunday Star-Times based on the juxtaposition of a photograph and an article in the 11 February edition.

He claimed that the photograph of a Northland Polytechnic lecturer headed ' What Ira Hecht didn't tell' and the adjacent article 'Jailed paedophile after his kids in NZ' could quite readily lead a reader to believe that the photo and article related to one and the same person.

The six line caption under the photo identified Ira Hecht as an American lecturer who failed to reveal his criminal past to Northland Polytech. Under the caption there was a bold heading pointing to a different page in the paper in which the full report about Ira Hecht was printed. The adjacent article started with the sentence 'An American, jailed for molesting his four children…' and went on to tell the story of the children's father, 'a high-flying attorney', who was trying to get his children back (from New Zealand). The name of the father was not disclosed.



Mr Snelgars's complaint was motivated by the harm which he believed the adjacent articles had done to the Northland Polytechnic. He claimed that the confusion between the two items had reverberated throughout the Northland Polytechnic's stakeholder groups - students, parents, employers, Government and his own staff - causing significant detriment to Northland Polytechnic's reputation and ability to operate effectively.



In response Sue Chetwin, the editor of the Sunday Star-Times explained that the paper had first reported on Ira Hecht's activities a week earlier. The Sunday Star-Times had alerted Mr Snelgar to the initial story about Ira Hecht prior to its publication and Mr Snelgar himself had issued a press release on the Friday prior to the Sunday Star's weekend publication. In his press release he had advised students or parents who had any concerns that they were welcome to contact the Polytechnic. In addition to this press release, and the Sunday StarTimes' article on 4 February about Hecht, the Northern Advocate, the local Whangarei paper, had published a front page story about Ira Hecht on the Monday.



The Press Council did not uphold the complaint. The photo in question had a box surrounding it with a clear reference to 'See News A5' for the story. The adjacent article about the 'Jailed Paedophile after his kids in NZ' also had a box surrounding it and included 5 columns of story with a continuation in a different part of the paper 'To News A2'. The Press Council recommends that newspapers take care when positioning not only headlines but also photos and articles where juxtaposition could create a misleading first impression.