ANNE HENDERSON AGAINST THE DOMINION POST
On March 26 The Dominion Post published on page two an article headlined:
Chinese top of deported crims list
On the day of publication Dr Anne Henderson, an immigration researcher of Palmerston North, emailed concern to the newspaper about the “slanted, sensationalised and inappropriate headline”. Two days later Dr Henderson emailed a further complaint about the “news item” alleging breaches of Principles 1, 8 and 10 of the New Zealand Press Council. After receiving a response from Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst, Dr Henderson made a formal complaint to the NZ Press Council.
The complaint is not upheld.
The article concerns deportation of criminals both from and into New Zealand with a focus on the risks posed by returning criminals.
Paragraph one reported an increase in the number of foreign criminals deported from New Zealand and on the lack of information about criminal deportees returning to New Zealand. Paragraph two canvassed alarm at this lack of monitoring of returning criminals. Paragraph three reported that New Zealand deported 72 criminals in 2006. Paragraph four identified 34 as 16 Chinese, 8 Malaysians, 5 Russians and 5 Indians. The remaining 38 deportees were not identified as to racial group. The subsequent 13 paragraphs concerned the risks posed by returning criminals.
A sidebar highlighted the return of seven New Zealand criminals, six of whom were deported from Australia.
On March 26 Dr Henderson emailed The Dominion Post a “concern re news item bias”. She stated that the headline was slanted, sensationalised and inappropriate and that a cursory glance would leave fair-minded readers retaining an inaccurate bias that Chinese formed the majority of the criminals deported. She argued that, contrary to a statement in the article, 16/72 does not constitute a majority. She stated that as an immigration researcher she was “very concerned at the misleading information, to the point of racial discrimination.” She requested “editorial staff and reporters have more regard for the implications and accuracy of their headlines and reporting.”
On March 28, after checking the NZ Press Council website, Dr Henderson made a complaint to the editor of The Dominion Post about the news item citing Principle 1: Accuracy, fairness and balance; Principle 8: Discrimination; and Principle 10: Headlines… should accurately and fairly convey the substance of the report.
On Principle 1 she stated the article was misleading and misinformed the readers through the headline and interpretation of the figures. She claimed the headline was unbalanced and unfair.
One Principle 8 she stated that the article placed gratuitous emphasis on Chinese as a minority and ethnic group or race. “The emphasis on deported Chinese “crims” was not appropriate in an article that focused on New Zealand deportees from other countries.”
On Principle 10 she stated that the headline did not convey fairly the substance of the report.
Editor Tim Pankhurst’s reply of April 2 “failed to see” how the article breached the principles of accuracy, fairness and balance. He did not, at this point, address the complaint about the headline. He suggested Dr Henderson was exhibiting “reverse racism” and “unhealthy political correctness.’
He placed the article within the following context: “Serious crimes by Chinese, in Auckland in particular and usually against other Asians, have been well documented. With the marked increase in the Chinese population it is no surprise there will be more offending.”
Mr Pankhurst stated the article was neither inaccurate nor sensational and assured her that staff were well aware of their responsibilities. He suggested if she was not happy with his response she should take the matter to the Press Council.
Dr Henderson, stating that the editor’s response did not seriously deal with the issues raised, complained to the Press Council on April 10. Dr Henderson found Mr Pankhurst’s response very disappointing, unsatisfactory, incomplete, not dealing seriously with the issues raised, mischievous and flippant. She suspected that his comments were designed to make her “wound up”.
The Newspaper’s Response
In his response of April 13 to the Press Council Mr Pankhurst stated that he had little to add to his original response to Dr Henderson’s complaint.
He then noted “If we must descend to sophistry, the Chambers 20th Century Dictionary … defines major as greater in number, quantity, size value, importance”. Sixteen of 72 people deported from New Zealand were Chinese and so that is the major ethnic group. He found it a puzzle “why recording of this indisputable fact should cause offence”.
On May 7, following Dr Henderson’s further complaint that Mr Pankhurst’s response was frivolous, inadequate and time-wasting, Mr Pankhurst reiterated his position that The Dominion Post’s reporting was not discriminatory nor gratuitous but agreed the headline could have reflected other elements in the story, but that this was true of many stories.
The Press Council finds an article carried in The Dominion Post on Monday March 26 headlined Chinese top of deported crims list is not in breach of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.
On the grounds of Principle 1: Accuracy “Publications should be guided at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission.”
The article reported on statistics relating to the deportation of criminals from and to New Zealand in 2006. The headline and article drew attention to Chinese criminal deportees. The numbers of Malaysian, Russian and Indian criminal deportees were also identified. In the absence of information about the ethnic background of the 38 unidentified deportees it must be assumed that The Dominion Post accurately identified the largest ethnic groups. Dr Henderson argued that Chinese criminal deportees, numbering 16 out of 72, were inaccurately identified in the article as a “majority”. It is accepted that 16 is not a majority of 72. However readers could form their own opinion on the accuracy of identifying 16 of 72 as a “majority”. As the statistics were given in the article readers were unlikely to have been misled.
On the grounds of Principle 8, “Publications should not place gratuitous emphasis on… race” the Press Council found the article was not discriminatory. Dr Henderson argued that “gratuitous emphasis” was placed on Chinese as a minority or ethnic group and that this was not appropriate in an article that focused on New Zealand deportees from other countries. The Press Council does not find this so. Even though the article largely concerned risks posed by returning New Zealand criminals it is not discriminatory to identify the most numerous of ethnic groups among the deportees.
On Principle 10, Dr Henderson complained that the article breached the principle by not fairly conveying the substance of the report. By a slim margin the Press Council does not uphold the complaint. It is noted that the paragraphs relating to the headline form a minor part of the article. Mr Pankhurst agrees that the headline could have reflected other elements in the story. However, this does not make the headline inaccurate nor misleading.
The complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Beck, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, Penny Harding, John Gardner, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Denis McLean and Alan Samson.