GRAHAM WILKINSON AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2697

Council Meeting: JULY 2018

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Stuff

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

Overview

The Media Council has considered a complaint that a headline published by Stuff was inaccurate and that a correction made two days later was insufficient redress for the damage caused.

The Complaint

Graham Wilkinson complained about an article published by Stuff on June 30 headlined “Elderly choosing to kill themselves rather than live in aged care facilities”.

He emailed a complaint the following day saying there was no factual basis in the article to support the headline. To the contrary it contained a suicide note from a 91 year old man acknowledging the care he had received in the rest home.

Mr Wilkinson requested an apology to be published in as prominent a location as the original article.

While Stuff had freely acknowledged the heading was inaccurate, changing it “was two days and light years away from readdressing the damage caused.”

It was unacceptable that a serious media outlet would state that the elderly kill themselves because they lived in aged care, when that was not the case.

Mr Wilkinson said the story was accurate but the headline was distorting and demeaning to the thousands of residents, employers and owners of many aged care complexes. He asked for an apology or the opportunity to author a rebuttal of similar length and prominence.

The Response

Waikato Region Editor of Stuff Jonathan MacKenzie responded on July 3 saying it was a robust news story which did not malign the rest home industry.

However, he agreed the headline did not fairly represent the story. It was changed and a line was added at the bottom of the story stating that an earlier headline was inaccurate.

“The story is balanced and sensitive. The headline was changed quickly to “Elderly choosing to kill themselves” and beyond that I don’t believe there was anything else to be done. I don’t know why Mr Wilkinson believes he is owed an apology and I don’t accept his views about the story.”

The Decision

Clearly the headline was inaccurate and while this was readily acknowledged the Media Council is concerned that Stuff was slow to correct it and that it regarded a note at the bottom of the article was sufficient remedy for a serious error.

Mr MacKenzie said he corrected the headline as soon as he was made aware of it, but that was three days after the story was posted on-line and two days after the complaint was emailed to Stuff.

No explanation is given as to why it took two days for Stuff to act on a complaint. The Media Council has been concerned for some time that media companies are failing to adequately monitor avenues for complaints and this was clearly a case where it could have acted far more quickly.

By the time the headline was corrected the story had been on-line for three days and the headline at least would have been read by many Stuff readers. By the time it was corrected it would have been of diminished interest and fewer people would have been likely to read it, let alone see the correction note at the bottom of the article.

The Media Council is troubled by Mr MacKenzie’s comment that nothing more could be done and his dismissal of Mr Wilkinson’s call for an apology.

An apology, not just to Mr Wilkinson, but to Stuff readers would have been appropriate. The Press Council also calls on media companies to ensure they monitor complaint lines constantly to ensure obvious errors are corrected swiftly.

The complaint is upheld.

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