Case Number: 723

Council Meeting: February 1999

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Daily News

The New Zealand Press Council has not upheld a complaint against the Daily News regarding use of a photograph following a fatal accident.

The photograph at issue appeared on the paper’s front page on October 23 1998.
It featured a crane being used to remove from the Awakino River a car which had crashed into the river during a flood two days previously. The driver of the car survived the accident but his wife and three-year-old son did not, and their bodies were still in the car when it was recovered.

Several readers, including two who complained to the Press Council, felt that in the circumstances of the tragedy the newspaper had been insensitive in using the photograph of the car, especially as the bodies were inside and a limb appeared to be visible.

The Editor responded that the accident in question had been a major news incident in itself and was also part of an on-going controversy over the state of the road where it happened. The paper had a policy of not showing deceased people and he had personally checked this photograph on screen and felt it was not offensive.

The Council agrees with both parties that newspapers have a responsibility not to carry photographs which are gratuitously insensitive. In this case the fatal accident and subsequent removal of the car were clearly legitimate subjects for newspaper coverage.

The question was whether the paper went too far in using a photograph in which a limb of a body was visible. After studying the photograph the council members felt the paper did not exceed the bounds of good taste. The Council thought the mention in the article that the bodies were still in the car was probably the cause of reaction rather than the actual photograph itself. It also commended the newspaper for having a well-balanced policy on such matters.