PLYMOUTH BRETHREN CHRISTIAN CHURCH AGAINST MANAWATU STANDARD / STUFF

Case Number: 2694

Council Meeting: JULY 2018

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Manawatu Evening Standard

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Discrimination
Headlines and Captions
Misleading
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. Plymouth Brethren Christian Church have lodged a complaint that relates to a number of headlines appearing in theManawatu Standard and Stuff, and an alleged breach of Principle 6.It is also said that there is a breach of Principle 7, discrimination and diversity.

Background

2. The complainant (PBCC) is generally known as the Exclusive Brethren Church.A member of that church faced trial and retrial in the Palmerston North District Court for the historic rape of his son. By the time of the trial it appears he had left the Church.He was ultimately convicted on all charges.As a matter of background, but of relevance, the accused had also been convicted for the marital rape of his former wife.

The Complaint

  • 3. The headline used the phrase “Exclusive Brethren Rape Trial”.In a complaint lodged on behalf of the complainant by the law firm Minter Ellison Rudd Watts, it is said this headline conveyed the misleading impression that the PBCC, rather than the individual perpetrator, was “on trial or culpable for the unlawful and abhorrent conduct in question”.The author of the letter states that the headline cannot be said to “accurately and fairly convey the substance” of the articles.
  • 4. In the same letter of complaint to the Council, it is said the misleading headlines place gratuitous emphasis on the involvement of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church that is not justified in the body of the articles.

The Response

5. There is a lengthy response from the Manawatu Standard/Stuff.It supplies the Council with links to a series of articles dealing with the trial and the earlier conviction involving the rape of his wife. The articles also speak of the family’s involvement with the church and the impact that had on the family and individual members.

6. It also points out the both prosecution and defence counsel made religious references in the course of the trial.

The Decision

7. No issue was taken with the content of the stories by PBCC.It is the headline that is complained of, as both a breach of that principle and the discrimination and diversity principle.

8. It is quite clear in the extensive material provided to us by both the PCBB andStuff/Manawatu Standard that both counsel for the prosecution and the defence made significant reference to the accused and the family’s membership of, and relationship with the PCBB.It is unnecessary to repeat all of those references here.But clearly they played a significant part in the trial, and as we have noted, no issue is taken with the reporting.

9. The point that Exclusive Brethren is the common name for the PBCC, and ‘brethren’ is plural is pedantic.Equally, a single member of the church could be described as an Exclusive Brethren if he is a member of that church.The accused, at the time of the offending, was.There seems to be no issue regarding that. In any event even a quick glance at the story would show it is referring to a member. As well rape is not a corporate offence a fact that would be in the knowledge of any reader.

10. Given the matters that were raised and explored at trial, we are quite satisfied that the headline accurately conveys the substance of a key element of the trial.That is, that the accused was a member of the complainant church at the relevant time and the impact of that membership on the accused.There is no breach of Principle 6.

11. We do not consider that the reporting of this trial, based as it is on statements by both prosecution and defence counsel, is placing gratuitous emphasis on the matter of the accused’s previous membership of the Exclusive Brethren church.Rather, it explored what membership of that church meant, and how it impacted on this family and its relevance to the offending.There is no breach of Principle 7.

12. Furthermore, reading the articles complained of, and all of the other material as a series of reports, (which is common in the case of reporting of lengthy trials), it is clear to us that there is no breach of Principle 1, Accuracy, Fairness and Balance.

13. The complaint is not 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.