CHRISTOPHER SMITH AGAINST STUFF/MANAWATU EVENING STANDARD
Case Number: 3449
Council Meeting: 30 OCTOBER 2023
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Publication: Manawatu Evening Standard
Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Ruling Categories: Court Reporting
The Manawatu Standard published a story on 14 August 2023, headlined Levin standoff: Paul Kenneth Smith not fit to stand trial.
It reported the Court’s handling of a case in which a man, who had been at the centre of a lengthy standoff with the police, was set to be tried on charges of posting harmful digital communications, arson, possession of an offensive weapon and threatening to kill. The judge remanded Mr Smith to a psychiatric forensic unit after receiving medical reports that he was mentally impaired and not fit to plead to the charges or stand trial. The story also reported other information about Mr Smith’s behaviour prior to his arrest, including information about a long-running legal battle to force him to leave his late mother’s home.
Christopher Smith complained that this article and previous articles, including one about a home invasion, breached Media Council Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, because they were misleading.
“I feel Stuff is dismissing myself as a family member involved through the lengthy issues that Paul has caused.”
Christopher Smith said the reporting had caused a lot of mental harm to him and his father and he asked all articles to be removed. He did not believe public interest or curiosity trumped the mental health of victims.
Stuff responded, saying that its policy was that it rarely removed published content unless there were exceptional circumstances, such as an order from a judge.
“We reserve the right to make exceptions when the circumstances warrant it, but we set a high threshold in demonstrating why the public interest would be served by removal. This is because published stories form part of the permanent, public historical record. We apply this policy particularly firmly to court stories, as the justice system is designed to be open.”
Stuff acknowledged its reporting of the police stand-off, the dispute over the home and the home invasion were personal and may have caused trauma or stress. But this did not override the public interest, which was considerable in all cases involving police investigations and High Court judgements.
The Media Council can understand the stress that relatives often suffer when a family member appears before the court on serious charges. This was a sad story about a man who was plainly ill and acted irrationally in his efforts to secure possession of the home. The facts, as reported, do not reflect badly on the family.
As the Council has noted before our criminal courts are open to the public and, subject to certain rules and orders, the media are entitled to report cases that come up. The prosecution of offenders is a matter of significant public interest and the media have an important role in reporting cases.
As distressing as this may have been to the Smith family this story appears to be a straightforward report of what was said in open court. There was no suggestion that any suppression orders were breached and no information has been presented to the Media Council to show how the reporting may have been misleading.
Decision: The were insufficient grounds to proceed.