COMPLAINANT AGAINST GREYMOUTH EVENING STAR
1 In its publication dated February 17, 2014, the Greymouth Evening Star ran an article under its District Court section entitled “Assault case defence successful.” It was a report filed by its court reporter about a case of a local man successfully defending himself in court on a charge of assaulting a woman.
2 The complainant laid a formal complaint with newspaper via a letter dated February 23 and hand delivered to the office of the publication on February 25. The complaint fell under two broad headings of “Complaint 1” and “Complaint 2.”
3 Complaint 1 consisted of a number of sub-complaints – the article is insensitive to women and domestic violence; it has discredited the complainant in an “unlawful manner”; the article easily identified the complainant; allowed the defendant to boast of his successful defence; signals to the community that the defendant in the case was in the “right”; the small clarification made in the title was not satisfactory; and that the article had signalled to the wider community that “domestic violence is ok.”
4 Complaint 2 related to two meetings at the office of the Evening Star and also consisted of a number of sub-complaints – the court reporter did not introduce himself; a statement made by the reporter to her that he did not believe the defendant with the inference that the article therefore was inaccurate; the editor was looking at the complainant in a “very provocative manner” which made the complainant feel threatened; insensitivity directed towards the complainant by the editor and his staff; not treated in a professional manner; and the conversation with staff of the Evening Star had an “unsavoury tone and outcome.”
5 Following letter exchanges and the meetings mentioned above where the complainant believed there were no satisfactory results, the complainant started the process with the Press Council citing breaches related to Principles 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance); 2 (Privacy); 4 (Comment and Fact); 5 (Headlines and Captions); 6 (Discrimination and Diversity); 7 (Confidentiality); and 11 (Corrections).
6 Editor of the Greymouth Evening Star Paul Madgwick is clear in response to all complaints:
- The heading was true and accurate of the court case
- The complainant was not identified in any shape or form
- The article did not identify the case as domestic abuse
- The newspaper refrained from stating the complainant was related to the defendant
- The clarification carried on 18 February was worded as requested by the complainant
- The filing of the article by the court reporter was an accurate account of the outcome of the court case
- The comment by the complainant around the provocative look by the editor upon the complainant was both “ridiculous” and “offensive”
- The reporting of the court case was the same as any other case presented in the Greymouth District Court without bias, regardless of colour, creed or sex.
7 Given the number of Press Council principles the complainant believes the newspaper has breached, we wish to go through each one.
8 In regards to Principle 1, the Council acknowledges the math error made by the reporter in which the age of the defendant in the article was incorrect. The editor is adamant that his court reporter took an accurate account of the court decision on this case and the article reflects that. The Council agrees, notwithstanding the age error, that the four paragraphs are accurate. The math error does not distract from the accuracy of the article in its totality.
9 The complaint based on Principle 2 is not upheld. The editor is correct to state that the paper could have identified her but chose not to given the sensitivity of the issue. In addition to not identifying the situation as one of domestic violence, the paper went some way in ensuring the privacy of the complainant was upheld.
10 Principle 4 is not upheld as the article is a factual reporting of a court decision.
11 The newspaper acknowledged the complaint in regards to Principle 5 and following the meeting with the court reporter on 18 February, provided clarification the following day. The complainant believes the publicised article heading gives the impression that domestic violence is ok. The Council agrees with the editor on this point. The paper did not refer to the case as an allegation of domestic abuse nor did it identify the victim in any shape or form.
12 The Press Council is of the view that the newspaper did not place gratuitous emphasis on the alleged victim so Principle 6 does not apply.
13 Principle 7 does not apply given it is a public proceeding in the District Court.
14 Principle 11 is not upheld although the Council acknowledges the clarification in response to the complainant’s request on the heading and that the newspaper has taken responsibility for the inaccurate age published.
15 The complainant requests that the Council also makes an adjudication on the accuracy of things said at meetings between the complainant and staff of the newspaper. That is not the role of the Press Council, however, there is no good reason to doubt the accurate account of those meetings put forward by the three newspaper staff.
16 We recognise that any situation involving assault of another person is a sensitive one and publications should take care to ensure that all reasonable steps are undertaken to not add further fuel to the fire. In this case, the newspaper has acted appropriately.
17 Complaint in its totality is not upheld.
Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.