Case Number: 2715

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2018

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Sunday-Star Times

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Headlines and Captions
Unfair Coverage


Sunday Star-Times published an opinion piece from Lynda Hallinan on June 17, 2018.The piece headlined“How to be confident your dentist isn’t a nefarious neoliberal tooth fairy in disguise” outlined Ms Hallinan’s opinion on the dentistry profession and also on her own journalism / media industry.

The Complaint

Christopher Shepherd complains that Stuff breached Media Council principles:

  • Principle 1 – Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
  • Principle 4 – Comment and Fact
  • Principle 6 – Headlines and Captions

Mr Shepherd argues that there has been no input into the piece from dentists and is Hallinan’s “uneducated derogatory opinion piece on dentistry in NZ.”It is grossly inaccurate.

Secondly, the suggestion from the columnist that no dentist has told a patient he/she has “perfect pearly whites” was not accurately noted as the writer’s opinion.

Thirdly, the column made comparisons between the cost of obstetric care and the cost of dentistry without pointing out that obstetric care is subsidised by the taxpayer whereas dentistry is not.

Lastly, the headline does not accurately reflect the substance of the article.

The Response

Kelly Dennett, News Director, Sunday Star-Times, noting that the article was clearly marked as opinion piece, however responded specifically to the points raised by the complainant.

Accuracy, fairness and balance is not required when it’s an opinion piece.

Ms Hallinan didn’t seek a view from the dentistry industry because it was an opinion piece.

The headline accurately reflects the content of the story because the headline comes specifically from the substance of the story i.e. a line that is used in the piece.

The Discussion

Ms Hallinan’s piece was clearly labelled as opinion.In his complaint, Mr Shepherd acknowledges it as such.

We agree with the points raised by the News Director.

Principle 5 notes that balance is not required in an opinion piece.

Just as the readership would be well aware that obstetric care is subsidised by the taxpayer, they would also have personal experience of the cost of dentistry. The comment was not misleading.

The headline was a direct quote from the column and so was not inaccurate in its reflection of the piece.

Ms Hallinan has been a long-term opinion columnist so the readership would know her work.In addition to the piece being clearly labelled, the readership would know her columns and opinion pieces and treat them in the spirit with which it was intended.

The complaint is not upheld.

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


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