RICHARD LAUREN AGAINST THE SPINOFF

Case Number: 2672

Council Meeting: JUNE 2018

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Spinoff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Columnists
Photographs
Privacy
Social Media
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Richard Lauren complains that an article published on The Spinoff website breaches a number of the Media Council principles.

The Media Council does not uphold the complaint.

Background

On May 17, 2018, the New Zealand Herald published an article by Kirsty Johnston about “toxic masculinity”. The article described an encounter in a bar between Ms Johnston, her friend and a “toxic male”. On 18 MayThe Spinoff published a commentary on the article, including a summary of, and a link to, the original article, and a selection of the comments on it that had appeared on theNew Zealand Herald’s Facebook page.

The Complaint

The main points of Mr Lauren’s complaint concern The Spinoff’s summary of theNew Zealand Herald article and the use of Facebook comments and profile pictures. He says the summary was a “grossly modified version of events” that was used “to take various Facebook comments out of context and then publicly shame those who made them by posting enlarged version of the Facebook profile pictures for the world to see.”

He considered that some important themes from the original story had been omitted, with the result that the Facebook comments on those themes were out of context. He was also concerned that although the names of those commenting on Facebook were deleted, they were easily identifiable from their profile pictures.

The Response

The editor of The Spinoff, Toby Manhire, responded to the complaint saying that he believedThe Spinoff article fairly reflected the original.The Spinoff had obtained permission to reprint, which it did under the heading of “commentary” with a link to the original article.

The Facebook posts were all, to the best of his knowledge, public posts available for any Facebook user to see.He said they seemed to him to be “an effective way to make the argument that toxic masculinity prevails in New Zealand, particularly within the bounds of an opinion piece.”

The Decision

It is clear that the article in question is an opinion piece and not a news report. It is described as a commentary and consists of a summary of theNew Zealand Herald article (which itself is an opinion piece), a link to that article, some comments on it and the Facebook reaction to it, and a selection of the Facebook comments. The principles of accuracy, fairness and balance do not apply to opinion pieces in the same way as they apply to news reports, though if the opinion is expressed to be based on facts, those facts must be accurate.

So far as the commentary itself is concerned, Mr Lauren’s main complaint is that elements in it do not accurately reflect the content of the original and that certain themes have been lost.There are two minor inaccuracies in the summary of the article – it implies that an event that took place when one woman was in the bathroom actually took place with both women present, and it states that the man yelled at them when there was no mention of yelling in the original. The Media Council does not consider these inaccuracies to be material.The main theme of the story is about unwanted attention from a man and is accurately reported. There is also a link to the original article, which would no doubt be used by a reader interested in analysing the story in depth. The other themes to which Mr Lauren refers are ones that he has read into the article and which are not obviously intended by the author. If they exist at all, they are clearly subsidiary and nothing has been lost by summarising.

The Media Council takes the view that photographs on an open Facebook page can be regarded as publicly available unless there are special circumstances to be taken into account.It is usually considered good practice to attempt to contact the person represented in the photograph.In this case, however, the photographs were not on a personal Facebook page but were attached to comments posted on theNew Zealand Herald Facebook page. In the circumstances the photographs were clearly in the public domain and no permission was needed to publish them.

Decision

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen (Chairman), Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tracy Watkins.