Andy Boreham complains about a Waikato Times account of the mood and character of a crowd outside the Taupo Youth Court when a teenager appeared on a charge of sexually violating a five-year-old girl. The complaint is not upheld.

The crime, committed at a Turangi motor camp on a child of visitors to New Zealand just before Christmas, 2011, attracted intense national interest before the youth was charged. On the day of his first appearance almost everything about him was suppressed and the Waikato Times devoted most of its report to a description of the crowd outside.

The Complaint
Andy Boreham complains that the report contains language and assertions that are clearly matters of opinion but are presented as fact. Specifically, he cites references to the victim's family being surrounded by an "aching love" and to "big corn-fed policemen on the front door". One onlooker was described as "so much like prison he's only lacking a white suit." and "best avoided until he approaches and starts asking questions". A couple were said to be voicing "rumours that can't be repeated but seem plausible."

Mr Boreham accuses the newspaper of presenting opinion as fact, offending standards of accuracy, fairness and balance and making a discriminatory statement that a person looked "like prison" before it reported that he was of the "local Tu Whare Toa Iwi".

Mr Boreham believed the article was endorsing anti-social behaviour and was irresponsible. He cited a reference to one angry onlooker having a camcorder up his sleeve, presumably to post pictures of the accused on a website.

He considered the unattributable views of onlookers had no place in professional, impartial news stories. This one, he believed, suggested the public are entitled to take the law into their own hands.

The Newspaper's Response
The editor not only stood by the story but described it as "a fine piece of journalism". It was in no way inaccurate or unbalanced. He expected his reporters to include some "colour" of significant news events such as this.

"We rely on reporters to be the eyes and ears for our readers," he said. At no time had the reporter expressed a view on the accused or the case. He said, "Mr Boreham mistakes colour for opinion".

The Decision
The best factual reporting is not insensate. The reporter's job is not just to count numbers in a crowd or listen to what might be said. A good reporter can give a reader a sense of what it is like to be there. A well-written story uses acute factual observation to convey what a fair and impartial observer would see, hear and think.

Waikato Times reporter Alistair Bone has achieved all of this exceptionally well, in the Council's view.

The passages that Mr Boreham labels opinion are the reporter's impressions and this would have been evident to readers. There was no risk that comment would be confused for fact.

Mr Boreham finds one particular passage discriminatory. It reads. "One guy looks so much like prison he is only lacking a white paper suit. He seems best avoided until he approaches and starts asking questions." But the rest of the paragraph puts quite a different complexion on that observation. It continues: "He is not about the accused, he is here to support the little girl's family, he's local Tu Whare Toa Iwi and hoping his community is going to be safe over the rest of the holiday."

Mr Boreham sees an anti-social tone in the whole article. The council reads it quite differently. In the passage just quoted the reporter is cleverly using a prejudgment of his own to show how wrong prejudice can be.

Far from suggesting the public are entitled to take the law into their own hands, the article clearly conveys the ugliness of some of the sentiments without losing sympathy for the crowd's horror at the crime.

In the Council's view the article is not only balanced, fair and responsible, it is a fine piece of journalism, a credit to the reporter and his newspaper. The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.


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