MAY MEYER AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 793

Council Meeting: August 2000

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Privacy
Children and Young People
Photographs

Two complaints against the New Zealand Herald brought by May Meyer of Auckland have not been upheld by the New Zealand Press Council. Ms Meyer contended that a front-page article and accompanying photograph, which appeared on 13 March under the headline "A mate in Meijie's sad world," showed a lack of consideration for a child in a distressing situation and was inattentive "to his sensibilities with respect to his privacy." The complainant also maintained that the New Zealand Herald's account of events leading up to the killing of Meijie Hu's mother appeared to blame her for what had transpired.The complainant does not claim any relationship with the child or family

Ms Meyer related the first part of this complaint to principles 5 and 3 in the Press Council's published Statement of Principles, dealing respectively with the need for editors to have particular care and consideration in reporting on children and to give careful attention to the sensibilities of those suffering from trauma or grief.

The Council noted that the theme of the article was the concern being shown for the child by a policeman, the family violence coordinator of the Waitakere Police. The photograph showed the child walking hand-in-hand with the police officer to his mother's funeral. The article also noted that the boy was receiving psychiatric help and had the sympathy of his school friends. To the extent possible in such a comprehensively sad case, the New Zealand Herald had provided reassurance to its readers that the authorities were not impervious to personal tragedies and that the police themselves showed a human face to victims of crime and extreme misfortune.

The Editor of the Herald had responded to the complaint by noting that the photographer had approached the police officer, the officiating priest at the funeral and principal mourners to ensure that he might take photographs.The child, the editor noted, was not shown "grief-stricken". The Council found that the photograph conveyed the impression of an uncertain and unhappy child but did not pry into his deep personal distress or advertise his trauma.

The Council underscores its concern about the adverse effects of undue publicity on children and once again draws the attention of editors to the need to be scrupulous in avoiding publication of material which could in any way exacerbate the distress and trauma of helpless victims or suffering relatives and friends. The Press Council considers the New Zealand Herald's decision in publishing both the photograph of Meijie Hu and the policeman and the associated story applied the Principles and dealt sensitively with the tragic case. The editor himself pointed out the story highlighted a little-known aspect of police work. This part of Ms Meyer's complaint was not upheld.

In addressing the second part of the complaint - that the Herald article implied, in effect, that the mother had been the author of her own misfortunes - the Council noted the editor's comment that the article in question was part of a series of stories on this affair. It is legitimate for editors to assume that their readers have been following a developing story of this kind and have no need for a full recapitulation of the background at each stage. Although the language used in the 13 March story was unequivocal, there could have been little doubt in the minds of readers, who had followed the story from the beginning, that a number of questions had been raised about the sequence of events and the role of the police on the day of the murder. What is clear is that, for whatever reason, the mother did not wait for the police and went into her house, where she was killed. There are various accounts of events. The issues are at present before the Police Complaints Authority and the courts. The Press Council cannot comment on them. The Council does not find, however, that the story on 13 March introduced new accusations, without attribution, as alleged by Ms Meyer. The Press Council accordingly does not uphold this second part of May Meyer's complaint.