Case Number: 2685

Council Meeting: JULY 2018

Decision: Upheld in Part with Dissent

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Headlines and Captions
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
Unfair Coverage


1.This is a complaint that articles published in The Press breached Media Council principles relating to accuracy, fairness and balance, privacy, subterfuge and the use of photographs and graphics.

A majority of the Media Council upheld the privacy complaint on the use of one photo (7:2). The remainder of the complaint was not upheld.

The Complaint

2. The Canterbury District Health Board’s executive director communications Karalyn van Deursen complained thatThe Press had breached a number of Media Council principles inarticles published on April 12, May 5 and May 12, 2018.

3. Accuracy, fairness and balance (principle 1) - it was particularly concerned about an article on May 12 under the headlineSeclusion for children ‘potentially traumatising’ and unacceptable.It was incorrect to state the use of seclusion for children and youth was increasing. Information provided was used selectively to paint a “catastrophic picture” when the number put into seclusion had reduced.

4. Privacy (principle 2) - it was particularly concerned about a photo and video footage used to illustrate an article published on May 5 under the headlineChristchurch’s Hillmorton Hospital ‘inadequate’, unsafe and leaky. The Saturday morning that this story first appeared on there was a video which clearly showed a patient (identified by a manager) entering one of the mental health inpatient buildings. The video also showed a photo, taken without a patient’s consent in 2017.The same photo had been the subject of a breach of privacy complaint the previous year.

5. Headlines and captions (principle 6) - it referred specifically to an article published on April 13 under the headlineDerelict state of Princess Margaret Hospital blamed for health care issues, escapes, quake risk.Many of the images used were out of date and some of the captions were misleading.WhileThe Press was not permitted to take photos of patient areas because of privacy breaches, it had supplied numerous photos to order forThe Press. They showed the mental health areas post refurbishment. They were light, bright and airy, with cheerful decals and artwork on the walls – nothing like the shotsThe Press used. The CDHB was particularly concerned about a photo taken in the old Princess Margaret Hospital which had never been used for mental health services, although the caption suggested it was. The photo showed a sash cord hanging down in a “noose” like fashion.

6. Subterfuge (principle 9) -After declining access to patient areas on the Hillmorton Hospital site, the CDHB again provided around 20 photos toThe Press. Most of these were to order with The Press providing a list of the shots they were after. Despite this,The Press, using a camera with a long lens, took and published a photo of a patient entering one of the units. This appeared in the first online version of the May 5 article headlinedChristchurch’s Hillmorton Hospital ‘inadequate, unsafe and leaky’.The general manager was horrified thatThe Press had published the photo of a patient without consent and without DHB permission to be on the ground. This photo was subsequently removed after much to-ing and fro-ing asThe Press questioned whether it was in fact a patient.

7. It referred to Mental Health Foundation guidelines for reporting on mental health issues which state that journalists could influence public opinion about people with mental illness in positive and negative ways. Handled well, reporting could change public misconceptions, educate people about mental health, encourage people in distress to seek help and support hope and recovery. But handled poorly, it made it less likely for people to ask for help, it misled the public about mental health care, reinforced misguided beliefs that people with mental illness were dangerous and increased feelings of shame and isolation for people experiencing distress. Coverage of mental health issues byThe Press was handled extremely poorly, in a sensationalistic manner and without respect for those in care or needing care.

The Response

9. Press editor Kamala Hayman rejected all the complaints.

10. She said the May 12 article on the seclusion of children was based on information provided by the CDHB with numbers (numbers of patients secluded and number of incidents) broken down by calendar year. The CDHB later provided data broken down by financial year but only for the number of patients subject to seclusion. It did not respond to a request for a matching data set showing seclusion incidents by financial year. This meant the new data was less complete and less useful and the reporter chose not to rewrite her story as it was less complete and had been provided after she had interviewed all parties and written the story. The story did not state seclusion rates were rising and had pointed out that use of seclusion had decreased from 96 to 29 between 2016 and 2017.

11. As for the claimed breach of privacy in the video published on May 5, Ms Hayman said this was taken from a public footpath. It showed the hospital carpark for four seconds and three people were visible – one a male cyclist, another a female in a blue tunic and the third was an older man carrying a red bag. From the blue tunic it could be reasonably concluded the female was a staff member. However, a typical viewer of the video would not be able to determine whether the two men were visitors or patients leaving after an appointment. The video was taken in a public place, with those visible engaged in normal activities and who would have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Care was taken not to show any individuals within areas that were not accessible to the general public.

12. As for a photograph showing a man smoking outside a room at Princess Margaret Hospital, the patient’s face was sufficiently obscured they could not be identified by a general reader and the individual’s privacy was protected. However, the CDHB’ views were respected and the photo was removed from the online story and a note was added to its photo archives logging the CDHB’s objection.

13. The editor challenged the claim that photos used in the April 13 article were out of date, inaccurate and that captions were misleading.A photo of a seclusion room taken in 2017 was re-used after the journalist, who visited the hospital days earlier, had seen the area pictured and confirmed it was in the same state. A hospital staff member had also stated it remained unchanged.

14. Referring to a hospital hallway photo she said The Press had chosen to use its own photo rather than a picture provided by the CDHB. It was a high-quality photo showing sunlight streaming through windows into a hospital corridor and it did not present a negative image of the hospital.

15. She also defended captions used on two other photos. One captioned- Empty wards and abandoned corridors in the non-operational part of the hospital, which has been deemed a quake risk -was factual.

16. The second, showing an old window with a sash-cord hanging down, was captionedToilet window near main reception area at Princess Margaret Hospital, where mental health services have been stranded since the rest of the hospital moved in 2016.The editor said this caption could be misinterpreted but was not inaccurate.The suggestion that it was noose-like and not appropriate in an article about mental health had not occurred to the paper’s staff and she rejected any suggestion it was used to deliberately inflame or distress readers.The picture of a traditional sash window was an indication of the age of the facility and the CDHB had not objected to its use in a previous story when it was campaigning for money from the Health Ministry.

17. She challenged the CDHB claim that use of these photos was misleading as they did not show areas of the hospital used for mental health services. The story was about the Princess Margaret complex, not only its mental health facilities. It was based on a report which warned that unused areas at the facilities posed a risk to staff and patients.

18. In summary the photos used were relevant and accurately captioned and she did not accept their use was unfair, inaccurate, misleading or a blatant misrepresentation.

19. Ms Hayman said it had not resorted to subterfuge, misrepresentation or dishonest means to gain material for these stories. The footage showing several people in a carpark at Hillmorton Hospital was not taken with a long lens and none of the people depicted in it would have had an expectation of privacy. She accepted the CDHB statement that one of the people in the photo was a patient but a reader would not know whether any of those pictured were patients.

20. Responding to the claim that it had breached principle 11 (photographs and graphics) she said none of the photos showed distressing or shocking situations. The images used were accurate and appropriate.The Press was grateful for photos supplied by the CDHB showing areas at Hillmorton Hospital where the paper did not have its own and where it used its own photos, these were appropriate, relevant and did not breach Media Council guidelines.

21. Coverage of conditions at Princess Margaret Hospital helped inform the community about the situation facing staff and patients. This contributed to public concern about funding for these services and played a role in securing funding for new facilities to rehome the services. This was public service journalism that had helped ensure patients and staff would be housed in new facilities within three years.

The Discussion

21. This complaint raised numerous issues relating to three separate articles in which a number of illustrations were used to show conditions at the Hillmorton and Princess Margaret Hospitals. It was complicated somewhat by the range of complaints some of which were refined as arguments were exchanged and we will deal here with the key issues only.

22. The articles dealt with serious and important local issues and The Press went to considerable effort to ensure its readers were well informed. However, the CDHB was clearly troubled by the articles and we note that the complaint seems to have been spurred in part by mistrust and suspicion carried over from a previous experience.

23.We will deal first with the CDHB complaint that the May 12 article on the seclusion of children was inaccurate, unfair or unbalanced. This story used statistical information provided by the CDHB, explained the use of seclusion where the law says it can only be used as a last resort, the conditions in which children were held and the poor state of buildings which housed mental health services.The Press chose to use one set of data provided by the CDHB and made the decision on pragmatic grounds not to use a second set of less complete data which was supplied later. This article recorded the use of seclusion had decreased, albeit not as rapidly as might have been shown in the second set of data. The CDHB did not set out how the figures had been used wrongly and the complaint is not upheld.

24. The Media Council had some difficulty with the complaints relating to privacy.The CDHB has an understandable concern for the privacy of its patients and argues that it is irresponsible to publish photos that reveal the identity of patients without their consent. It also maintained that privacy was breached with footage taken outside the mental health inpatient unit because this area was not a public place where people gathered, it was an area where patients and families enter a facility.The Press said it took care not to show people in areas not accessible to the public. The video was taken from a public footpath, people photographed in the car park outside the hospital did not have an expectation of privacy and that readers looking at this video segment would not know any individuals pictured were patients.

25. The Media Council notes none of the people were shown close up. The person the DHB identified as a patient was shown very briefly, at a distance and he had his back to the camera. The image was so fleeting people would be hard pressed to identify him. It is stretching arguments to say this was not a public place because people did not gather there, but the key point was that the footage was taken and used in such a way as to make identification unlikely. The complaint relating to this image is not upheld.

26. More troubling was the use of a photo of another patient which had been taken a year earlier inside Princess Margaret Hospital.This photo, showing a rear view of a patient, was taken and used without the patient’s consent and had been the subject of a previous privacy complaint. The CDHB said the patient was clearly identifiable to those who knew him whileThe Press said that the patient’s face was sufficiently obscured that they could not be identified by a general reader and believed the patient’s privacy had been protected.However, it had respected the CDHB view and removed the photo from its on-line story.

27. The Media Council principle relating to privacy states that everyone is normally entitled to privacy of person, space and personal information and these rights should be respected by publications.

That somebody is a mental health patient is clearly personal information and should be respected.The Press insists its photographers are experienced in photographing people who wish to remain anonymous. However, in this case the patient was identifiable by staff, at least.

28. The use of this photo, particularly as it had been the subject of a previous privacy complaint, was a mistake. WhileThe Press took down the photo it still does not concede it was in error. A majority of the Media Council believes it should accept it was in error and upholds the privacy complaint as it relates to this photo. Two members, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins, dissented from this decision.

29. As for the subterfuge complaint there is no clear case that The Press obtained information by misrepresentation or dishonest means. The CDHB supplied photos to order of areas where it was unwilling to allow aPress photographer to go and complained that The Press had improperly taken the footage mentioned above in paragraph 24.The Press was within its rights to take footage as it did from outside the hospital.

30.The CDHB and The Press were clearly at odds over the selection of photos of Princess Margaret Hospital, parts of which are derelict and parts of which are still, for the time being, used for mental health services.Some of the photos, which had been taken a year earlier by a Press photographer, were published in preference to more recent post-refurbishment photos supplied by the CDHB. To illustrate its complaint the CDHB referred to two similar photos of a corridor in the hospital, one taken a year earlier by The Press and the second by a CDHB photographer. The first is darker and could be described as gloomier while the CDHB supplied photo showed it brightly lit.The Press ran the photo it felt was most appropriate.

31. We take the point made by Ms Hayman that the CDHB had not objected to use of photos showing the age of the hospital when it was looking for funding. But it also wants to portray a more positive image of the mental health facilities which will continue to use parts of the hospital for another three years.

32. Whether the loop of sash cord shown in the photo was “noose-like” and therefore inappropriate is contestable. This is a question of judgement and sensitivity where the CDHB andThe Press both saw the photo very differently.The sash cord is not obviously noose-like, it was not seen that way by the editor and there was no intention to cause distress, although she acknowledged the caption could be misinterpreted.Selection of illustrations is a matter for an editor and it is not the Media Council’s to second guess an editor’s decision to use particular photos in preference to others.Complaints relating to the use of this and other photos showing the hospital buildings are not upheld.

33. The Mental Health Foundation guidelines for reporting on mental health issues, cited bythe CDHB, are useful but are not a code to which the Media Council has to refer to in its deliberations. However, we believe the CDHB has gone too far in using it to claim the paper’s coverage of mental health issues had been handled poorly and that the articles were sensational and disrespectful of those in its care.

34. The articles were of public interest. They covered important issues and although a majority faultedThe Press on one point, the reportage was thorough and responsible.

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

Sir John Hansen took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


Lodge a new Complaint.



Search for previous Rulings.

New Zealand Media Council

© 2024 New Zealand Media Council.
Website development by Fueldesign.