PETER CHARLTON-JONES AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2736

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2019

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Court Reporting
Defamation/Damaging To Reputation
Privacy
Privilege
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Peter Charlton- Jones, on behalf of others, complains that an article published byStuff on 25 October 2018 titled Man who assaulted wife 2-3 times a week claims to have a medical condition that puts him in ‘black rage’breaches the Council’s principles 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance; 2 (privacy), 6 (comment and fact); 6 (headlines and captions) and 7 (discrimination and diversity).

The article covered a case before the High Court where an appeal had been lodged against the imposition of a protection order by a lower court. The appeal was not allowed but the report covered some of the evidence submitted at the previous hearing where the order had been imposed.

The Complaint

Mr Charlton-Jones complains on behalf of a couple, the husband being the subject of the protection order. He says the report was inaccurate as to the frequency of the stated assaults. The complainant says that the man has never assaulted his wife “2-3 times a week”, a fact which could have been established by contacting other family members and the family’s GP. The complainant says that to have unverified and untrue personal details about their lives published in the national press was “defamatory, harsh, unsympathetic and unjust”. The article made the woman look “foolish”. The story added to the pressure on an already struggling family.

The Response

Stuff replies that the article reported a High Court judgment which was publicly available.The information included in the report was taken from the judgment. The judge imposed no name suppression in this case, with the facts handled in open court, and therefore part of the public record.

The Decision

The Media Council can understand the couple’s wish that this case had not been further publicised, but the media has the right to report court proceedings, as long as it does so fairly and accurately.Such reports are covered by privilege and are not subject to defamation proceedings. The media’s right to report court judgments is an important part of a functioning democracy. It allows the public to know what decisions are being made by judges.It is for this reason the media is sometimes referred to as the “eyes and ears of the people”.

The Council has read the High Court judgment.We can find nothing in the article that did not emanate from the judgment.If facts were stated in Court, which were not correct, it was for the legal representatives to point that out and have the record corrected at the time.

There was no need for the reporter to go beyond the judgment for verification.

The Media Council finds that none of the cited Principles has been breached and the complaint is not upheld.

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