ALLISON HALL AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 3226
Council Meeting: MARCH 2022
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Conflict of Interest
Tragedies, Offensive Handling of
CASE NO: 3226
RULING BY THE NEW ZEALAND MEDIA COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINT OF ALLISON HALL AGAINST STUFF
FINDING: INSUFFICIENT GROUNDS TO PROCEED
DATE: MARCH 2022
Stuff published an article on February 13, 2022, headlined Church fixer’s damning revelations; 21 out of 23 St John of God brothers faced allegations of physical or sexual abuse.
Allison Hall laid her complaint after an email exchange with the author of the article who confirmed to her that he was the son of a man who had led the Catholic Church’s National Office of Professional Standards (NOPS) several years earlier. This, she said, was an obvious conflict of interest.
She said the NOPS had been shown to be particularly effective in protecting abusers against complaints made by victims of abuse. Victims of the Catholic system who had dealings with NOPS would confirm this and “the sinister nature of the organisation” had been highlighted in the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry.
“[The journalist] of all people should understand by now the deep distrust that victims of the Catholic church are likely to have towards any organisation or persons with Catholic connections and the shock and trauma resulting from his disclosure that his father was the former head of NOPS.
She added that Stuff’s response to her was unprofessional and failed to grasp the significance of the impact this conflict of interest, implied or otherwise, may have.
At the outset the Media Council expresses its sympathy to the complainant. It is clear that many people in the care of the church and other institutions have been abused and further damaged by mishandling of complaints, denials and coverups. There is a deeply troubling history of abuse which the Royal Commission is now investigating and that is the appropriate body for considering information critical of the NOPS.
The Media Council was set up to consider issues of journalistic ethics. In this case it must consider whether the journalist had a conflict of interest because his father was the former head of NOPS.
Clearly Allison Hall was shocked when the reporter told her of the link, but we can see no evidence that he suffered from any conflict of interest or that it might have affected his reportage.
The story that prompted her complaint, and others this journalist has written about abusive priests, show he has no sympathy for child abusers, church officials who covered for them, or those who failed in their duty to make amends. He is most critical of the Catholic Church’s handling of the complaints about abuse.
As for the complaint that Stuff’s response was unprofessional the Council can see that misunderstandings arose. Stuff received very brief and cryptic emails where it was not clear that a complaint was being made or what it was about.
The Media Council has decided there were insufficient grounds to proceed.