MRS. D. E. LUMSDEN AGAINST NEW TRUTH

Case Number: 737

Council Meeting: April 1999

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: New Truth

A complaint by Mrs D.E.Lumsden of Waipawa against the weekly newspaper New Truth over an article published on 13 November 1998 has been partially upheld by The New Zealand Press Council.

The article complained of in New Truth was an account of the mysterious disappearance of Joseph Geenty, Mrs. Lumsden’s grandfather, in 1921 at Wallingford. The circumstances surrounding his disappearance were highly suspicious but the mystery of his death has never been resolved. Many years later one of Mr. Geenty’s daughters (Mrs. Lumsden’s aunt) told Mrs. Lumsden that one of her uncles had murdered his father Mr. Geenty. Mrs. Lumsden waited two years before she reported this information to the police and the file on Mr. Geenty’s disappearance was reopened.

A story of the events, based on a journalist’s interview with the police, appeared in the Central Hawke’s Bay Mail on 3 November 1998. In it it was made clear by police that they were seeking more information to assist towards solving of the mystery and to facilitate recovery of the body from where it was supposed to be buried and allow Mrs. Lumsden to provide a proper burial in the family plot for her grandfather. Mrs. Lumsden did not have a complaint against the said article but when approached by a reporter, mentioned hereafter, she looked on it as an opportunity to change three matters in the Bay Mail article.

After the 3 November article Mrs Lumsden was approached by an independent journalist working for New Truth who wished to interview Mrs. Lumsden as a follow up exercise, and for the purpose of publishing another article. Although Mrs. Lumsden does have several complaints (detailed below) about the interview, and what was ultimately published, she did consent to the interview knowing there would be a published article on the circumstances surrounding her grandfather’s disappearance.

The objected article was published on the front page of New Truth on 13 November 1998 under a banner headline DEATHBED CONFESSION DYING WOMAN NAMES DAD’S KILLER The newspaper also as a background to the above headlines claimed “Another Exclusive”. On an inside page there was reproduced an old family photograph with a caption “GEENTY CLAN: Family scepticism finally justified.” Although Mrs. Lumsden later regretted it she had supplied the photograph to the journalist. It clearly was not an exclusive as the Bay Mail had published 10 days before. Also Mrs. Lumsden said her aunt lived for some four years after the disclosure and that the information was no surprise to her but seemed to confirm her suspicions.

Mrs. Lumsden made several complaints to the Press Council that may be divided between the arrangements she initially made with the journalist as to the terms on which she agreed to be interviewed; and what was published in the article.

Mrs. Lumsden was prepared for the journalist as she had made enquiries and taken advice, she maintains. When he arrived at her house she requested him to indentify himself and she says she was assured on a specific request from her that the article would not be printed in New Truth, or in any magazine. Furthermore, she said that the journalist had undertaken to her that she would be supplied with, in effect, a draft of the article for her to approve before publication. Her purpose in agreeing to the interview was to to clear some matters in the first article which she wanted changed. The questions of the submission of a draft and the newspaper of publication are both disputed by the newspaper and the Council cannot decide those issues. Neither version is disbelieved but the Council cannot resolve them, and therefore those complaints are not upheld.

In her letter of complaint Mrs. Lumsden gave six separate instances of where she was misreported in the published article.

1. The paper reported that Mrs. Lumsden said her grandfather was “brutally slain”. The journalist concedes she did not say that but “probably just killed”.

2. The article reported the “mutilated body was dragged through the house”. The journalist whilst not disputing Mrs. Lumsden’s account says it is semantics.

3. The article said “ Lumsden says the suit listed in the gazette was later found at Geenty’s home - along with his watch and wallet.” The journalist says Mrs. Lumsden said it and he reported it.

4. The article said that the suspect had been sent to Australia “to gag him”. The journalist’s comment was that his original article had been edited in Auckland but by inference the use of “gag” was fair.

5. The article said “ Lumsden says she was shocked by the story blurted out by her dying aunt”. The journalist says she is correct as those words were added by the editor and he questioned that it could be a “natural inference”.

6. The article reports “ She probably told me because I had been so persistent in quizzing older family members about my grandfather for so many years....Naturally, I was startled by what I was told.” and “She called in the cops”. The journalist said that the first sentence was absolutely correct as told to him. He said the second sentence was subbed in.

The short point is that with the exception of 2 & 3 above there is substance in Mrs Lumsden’s complaint of being misreported, and therefore on those four grounds her complaints are upheld. A newspaper is not able to substitute its own words for those
used by, in this case, the interviewee. Neither is “inference” an acceptable excuse.