COMPLAINANT AGAINST THE DAILY POSTIntroduction
A complaint by the parents of a four-year-old girl alleging breaches of the New Zealand Press Council’s Principle 3 (Privacy) Principle 5 (Children and Young People) by The Daily Post has been upheld by the Council.
Late last year, a man appeared in court in Rotorua on a charge of sexually assaulting the four-year-old in a public library.
The newspaper decided to follow up the case by trying to contact the victim’s parents. According to the complainants, this was done through “unsolicited contact” with the girl’s grandmother and later the parents, via a message left on their telephone.
The parents said they tried to contact the reporter twice, leaving messages, but there was no further response from anyone at the newspaper. The parents said they did not believe the matter was of public interest.
Subsequently, on November 12, 2009, The Daily Post published an article, headed “Sentenced for assault on toddler,” about the sentencing of the man. No names of the victim or family were included. The family had been in touch with the police by this stage who asked the newspaper not to approach the parents at the sentencing, to which the newspaper agreed.
The complainants wrote to The Daily Post on November 19, 2009 and received a reply on December 1, 2009 which they said was “hand delivered”. They believed the answer was not timely and also saw the hand delivery as violating their privacy.
The complainants said they had made a decision to “keep the matter close to our immediate family unit” and had not told the grandparents. The phone call from the reporter has caused panic, alarm and distress to the grandparents.
Response from The Daily Post
The then editor of The Daily Post, Scott Inglis, responded on December 01, 2009. Mr Inglis said that the attack had occurred in a public place “– a place where everyone should feel safe – we believed it was a news event of significant public interest.”
The reporter learned of the case from press copies of the charge sheets and then attempted to establish if a spokesperson for the family would be willing to talk to the reporter for a follow-up article.
The reporter obtained the telephone number for the grandparents from the telephone book and left a message for the parents to contact the reporter, giving contact details.
The reporter had said that “at no time did she divulge to the grandmother the nature of the case” and that she had no records of any phone messages from the complainants following the conversation with the grandmother.
The Daily Post did not believe that it has contravened either Principle 3 or 5 of the New Zealand Press Council. The editor said: “It is not unusual for the media to make phone calls and other enquiries in an effort to get hold of the right people to seek information from. We stress again that in this case the newspaper and its staff have never identified your daughter as a sex attack victim”.
The paper accepted it had inadvertently described the victim as a toddler and would discuss a correction with the family if they wish.
Discussion and Conclusion
The relevant principles under which the complaint is made are:
Principle 3 (Privacy): “Everyone is entitled to privacy of person, space and personal information, and these rights should be respected by publications. Nevertheless the right of privacy should not interfere with publication of matters of public record, or obvious significant public interest.
Publications should exercise care and discretion before identifying relatives of persons convicted or accused of crime where the reference to them is not directly relevant to the matter reported.
Those suffering from trauma or grief call for special consideration, and when approached, or enquiries are being undertaken, careful attention is to be given to their sensibilities.”
Principle 5 (Children and Young People): “Editors should have particular care and consideration for reporting on and about children and young people”.
Although the reporter did not give any details of the event to the grandparents, she would have had to use the name of the child in the course of the conversation with the grandparents. She therefore did breach the privacy of the child in speaking to the grandparents, who were completely unaware that anything untoward had happened because the parents had made the decision to “keep the matter close to our immediate family unit.”
The reporter’s action in contacting the grandparents undermined the parental right to deal with the situation in a manner of their choice and was a breach of the child’s right to privacy.
It is common practice for journalists to make enquiries in an effort to obtain factual information, but journalists also need to ensure they use extra care and discretion where children and young people are involved.
In this case, the Press Council believes the newspaper should not have made what appears to have been a random phone call to the grandparents, who were unaware of any event that might have attracted the attention of a newspaper. More care and reporting diligence were required on this sensitive matter, particularly when it was clear only the parents would have been in a position to comment.
The newspaper breached the child’s privacy. It was entitled to approach the parents for further comment but it needed to do so extremely carefully. It failed to do that and the Press Council believes both principles were broken.
It was not a breach of privacy for the editor to hand-deliver the letter.
The complaint is upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.