MADELINE MCGILVRAY AGAINST THE SOUTHLAND TIMES

Case Number: 1033

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2005

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Southland Times

Ruling Categories: Nudity and Indecency
Photographs

Madeline McGilvray of Invercargill complains that a photograph published on page one of The Southland Times breaches clause 11 of the Press Council’s Statement of Principles: “Editors should take care in photographic and image selection and treatment”.

She believes the editor did not take care, and offended by placing a photograph that “exceeded the bounds of decency” on page one on June 20, 2005.

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.

The photograph showed 10 men – six of them Barmy Army supporters clad in beanies, capes and running shoes, the rest Otago supporters wearing only beanies and socks and footwear. The Barmy Army supporters were lined up to face a haka before a nude rugby match, which is apparently a tradition before any big rugby occasion in Dunedin.

The Otago supporters were shown from behind, their limbs and their opponents’ capes hiding anything Mrs McGilvray might have found even more offensive than the sight of three sets of bare buttocks.

The editor, Fred Tulett, wrote to Mrs McGilvray on June 24 saying he regretted she had been offended as the photograph was taken during a “light-hearted interlude” during the Lions tour and had been published as such. It had not been intended to offend and appeared to have been well received by the wider readership.

Although the paper had received, and published, several other critical letters Mr Tulett said there had been support too, including comment from an elderly woman who said she appreciated having something to laugh at in place of the more common images of disasters and tragedies.

In a subsequent letter to the Council he repeated that most readers saw the photograph as light-hearted fun, the photographer managing to capture the occasion without “over-exposing” any of the participants.

Mr Tulett said Mrs McGilvray often expressed her views in letters published in The Southland Times, repeatedly objecting to homosexuality and gay marriage, prostitution law reform and Freemasonry.

He said although the letters prompted little support from other correspondents their strongly-held opinions and beliefs were a welcome part of the mix of a “lively and well-read public forum”.

Mrs McGilvray said children read newspapers, too, and did not accept she had little support. She said other correspondents supported her and she had received a number of phone calls, which led her to believe she represented “quite a significant group of people”.

The Council accepts Mrs McGilvray would not be alone in her objection – but it also acknowledges that the so-called bounds of decency are not fixed and that what might have offended a larger number of people a generation ago is much less likely to do so today.

In the early 1970s the appearance of “page Three” girls in tabloid newspapers such as Truth and Sunday News prompted a number of complaints, and in 1973 the Council published an “An Appraisal of Sex, Nudity and Related Topics in the New Zealand Press”.

It observed that editors and publishers could “wisely acknowledge the existence of a significant body of public opinion” critical of the standards some publications had adopted.

That remains a valid observation, but the sort of image needed to invoke a reminder would have to be much more gratuitous than The Southland Times photograph, which is probably not the sort of image the Council had in mind in 1973, and is unlikely to have offended a large number of people even 32 years ago.

The Council accepts care was taken in the selection of the image and the complaint is not upheld.