Case Number: 2689

Council Meeting: JULY 2018

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage


Bill Dyet complains that a Lizzie Marvelly column and accompanying photograph breach the Media Council principles of accuracy, fairness and balance.

The Media Council does not uphold the complaint.


On June 23, 2018, the New Zealand Herald published a Lizzie Marvelly column Little Children Suffer in American Horror Story.

In the column, Marvelly strongly disagreed with US immigration policy and the controversy surrounding children being separated from their parents by US immigration officials policing the US border.

The column talked about Marvelly’s abhorrence of children being kept in cages, and was highly critical of US politicians using the plight of those children to make the case for an executive order reinforcing the Trump administration’s hardline immigration controls.

The issue was black and white and anyone who thought it was okay to forcibly remove a small child from their family and imprison that child in a cage was a monster, Marvelly wrote.

The main photograph accompanying the article was of two young people with their backs to the camera and pictured behind cage wire.

The caption read “US politicians were trying to use the trauma of children to force through a piece of immigration legislation”.

The same photograph accompanied the digital version, though was not as prominent.

The Complaint

Mr Dyet complained that Marvelly had launched an emotional attack on the Trump administration for separating the children of illegal immigrants from their parents and caging them, yet the photograph accompanying her article was taken in 2014 under the Obama administration.

This was deliberately presented by the article as an outcome of Trump’s policy when this was clearly wrong, Mr Dyet complains.

This breached the principles of accuracy, fairness and balance.

In an initial response assistant chief of staff Sophie Ryan responded to Mr Dyet on June 25 acknowledging the photograph was taken in 2014 at a holding area where immigrant children were processed and held at the US border in Arizona.

The Response

In response to the complaint about fairness and accuracy, Deputy Editor Alanah Eriksen said the column drew on facts from credible news sources which had been widely reported and were not in dispute. Mr Dyet had not disputed the facts.

In response to the complaint about balance, Ms Eriksen said the column was clearly an opinion piece and was labelled as such.

Ms Eriksen also addresses Principal 11, photographs and graphics, though she notes that Mr Dyet does not cite this principle.

She acknowledges the photograph pre-dates the Trump administration but says the caption does not make out it was taken more recently.

She says the photo was used to illustrate Marvelly’s central theme about the politicisation of children being held in US detention centres.

In response Mr Dyet expands on his original complaint, and widens it to include aNZ Herald editorial. The editorial is outside the scope of his complaint, however.

Mr Dyet also reiterates his view of the photograph as deceitful.

The Discussion

Under Principle 11 of the Media Council guidelines editors are required to take care in photographic and image selection and treatment.

In this case the photograph is used to illustrate a column focused on the policy of keeping children in cages. The caption is quite generic and refers to the politicisation of children in US policy.

Given the widespread availability of more recent images to illustrate the border policies of the Trump administration it seems careless at best and lazy at worst that this particular image was used.

For the sake of clarity the date should have been identified in the caption. It would not have detracted markedly from the thrust of the caption about the plight of immigrant children being politicised by US politicians.

Nor would it have detracted from the central theme of Marvelly’s column.

Marvelly’s column is not specific to the Trump administration in decrying the detention of children. She says that issue is black and white and anyone who believes it is okay is a monster.

But she is critical of the Trump administration for using the plight of those children to politicise the issue.

This is relevant to the caption as well.

Even if it was not, however, this was a clearly marked opinion piece which under principle 5 of the Media Council guidelines are widely understood to consist largely of the writers own opinions.

For that reason, the complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.


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