Bruce Roscoe claims The New Zealand Herald failed to comply with Principle 1 (Accuracy Fairness and Balance) of the Press Council Statement of Principles in reporting as to the pending visit of a 96 year old former nurse to Japan to receive an apology from the Japanese authorities. The nurse had been captured by the Japanese during World War II and had been incarcerated for three years until the war ended. The New Zealand Herald reported that the Japanese Government was to apologise to the nurse for the way she and other nurses had been treated during this time.

The article in question is short. It paraphrases a longer piece published by a Herald sister publication The Aucklander. While Mr Roscoe comments critically about The Aucklander article his complaint does not extend to this work.

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.

On 1 December 2011 the Herald ran a brief story about the nurse’s trip to Japan. The article referred to the nurse having been one of 76 Australian prisoner of war nurses taken by the Japanese from Rabaul in Papua New Guinea to Yokohama. The article said the nurses “were imprisoned in Yokohama, forced to knit silk bags and make envelopes. After year, food ran out and they licked the glue off the envelopes to survive. They were frequently beaten”.

The article referred readers to the nurse’s “remarkable story” in The Aucklander publication. The Aucklander article, which the Council has read, provides more detail as to the nurse’s account of her experiences while in the hands of the Japanese.

The Complaint
Bruce Roscoe claims the Herald article is inaccurate, unfair and unbalanced. Mr Roscoe says the historical record does not support the claim the Australian nurses were “frequently beaten”. Mr Roscoe says “the notion that the Japanese military police would “frequently beat” captive nurses for three years and nine months is a cultural calibration stimulated by stereotypical accounts of Japanese military abuse of male Allied prisoners of war”.

Mr Roscoe points to a manuscript published by an Australian researcher Rod Miller titled “The Lost Women of Rabaul”. Mr Roscoe says Mr Miller’s investigations uncovered “no more than about five recorded instances of violence perpetrated against some of the women during their 45 months of their captivity”. Mr Roscoe says the record does not support the claim the nurses were ‘frequently beaten”. Rather, Mr Roscoe says, it would have been more accurate for the article to have said that the nurses were “seldom slapped or hit”.

Mr Roscoe also refers to the reference in the Herald article to the fact the nurse was telling her story “for the first time”. Mr Roscoe points to the nurse having told her story in interviews previously and to the fact the nurse’s diaries have been widely excerpted.

Mr Roscoe says the nurses were questioned on their treatment soon after their release in 1945 but none of their statements were used in any war crimes tribunal. Mr Roscoe says that had the nurses been frequently beaten then their assailants would surely have been indicted as war criminals as were many guards who did frequently beat their captives. Mr Roscoe says “it is deplorable that even after the passage of 70 years reporting about the Pacific War by a leading New Zealand newspaper should be so governed by popular stereotype”.

The Response
The New Zealand Herald responds by saying the article was based on a face to face interview with the nurse. The Herald says the nurse had reported being “slapped on the face on at least two different occasions as well as other times when she was hit across the back and punched”. The Herald says this was paraphrased to “frequently beaten”, a reasonable paraphrasing in the circumstances.

The New Zealand Herald maintains its article was fair, accurate and balanced.

The Decision
The New Zealand Herald article was presented as a summary of a much longer piece published in another newspaper. The Herald article provided a link to the more detailed story. The Aucklander piece, to which Mr Roscoe refers but does not formally complain, expanded on the nurses’ treatment by their Japanese captors. While one can argue the toss as to whether the nurses were “frequently beaten” (and the Council is in no position to determine the accuracy of the historical record Mr Roscoe mentions) there is nothing obvious which casts doubt on the nurse’s account, an account which The Aucklander article was clearly recounting and which the Herald article summarised. Leaving aside the semantics the nurses undoubtedly suffered while in Japanese captivity.

The Council cannot establish whether the nurse was telling her story for the first time. Mr Roscoe gives no details as to previous interviews he claims she gave or to where or how her diaries were previously published.

The Council takes the view the underlying tone of The New Zealand Herald story was positive. Its theme is one of forgiveness. The Japanese Government was proposing to not only to apologise to the nurse but to fly her to Japan so the apology could be conveyed to her in person. If Mr Roscoe is motivated by a concern the Japanese people have been unfairly maligned by the story then the Council believes such concern is unfounded.

It follows the Council does not agree with Mr Roscoe and 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, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


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