The Press Council has dismissed a complaint made against the Otago Daily Times by Mr B.J.Reddington of Christchurch. Mr Reddington complained about the publication on 2 October 1995 of a photograph of a car in which his mother died in an accident at Blueskin Bay. The photograph, on page two of the paper, showed the damaged car, two policemen and a group of bystanders in the distance. Mr Reddington claimed that the publication of the photograph was not in the public interest, that the individual rights to privacy of the deceased, her family and of the witnesses were infringed and that other newspapers simply publish brief reports of such accidents. He believed that by contrast the accident involving his mother had been treated as a news item, arguing that the type of photograph and the headline, language and style of the accompanying story all supported this view. The headline speculated that the woman may have died before the crash, an opinion attributed to police in the opening paragraph of the story.

The editor of the Otago Daily Times responded that the accident had indeed been treated as a news item, a treatment justified by the public interest in such events which includes an interest in photographs as well as written reports. He stressed that editorial discretion would have been exercised in relation to photographs of people who were dead or in pain but that was not the case here. Mr Reddington did not feel however that the editor had answered his complaints.

In its adjudication the Press Council recognised and regretted that the publication of the photograph had caused distress to Mr Reddington and his family. However the Council agreed with the editor that there was public interest in such tragedies, which extended to features which could only be shown in photographs, and that it was not inappropriate to treat the accident as a news item. The choice of what to treat as news was within the editor's discretion and the police speculation about the cause of death, clearly attributed, added to the newsworthiness of the story. Members noted further that the photograph did not show insensitive or tasteless images of the dead or dying, nor did it infringe privacy since the accident occurred in a public place and the people pictured could not easily be identified. The complaint accordingly was not upheld.


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