DAVID SMALL AGAINST HERALD ON SUNDAYDr David Small, senior lecturer in education at the University of Canterbury, complained to the New Zealand Press Council that an editorial in the Herald on Sunday critical of breast-feeding advocacy groups including La Leche League was inaccurate.
The complaint is not upheld.
On February 5, 2012, the Herald on Sunday reported that a short clip of All Black Piri Weepu bottle-feeding his baby which was to be part of an anti-smoking television commercial had been removed.
The clip was edited out after the organisation behind the commercial, the Health Sponsorship Council, sought the views of two parties, including the La Leche League, to ensure health messages were not mixed.
The League had raised concerns about the bottle-feeding image and subsequently, a petition instigated by a woman associated with the League drew 67 emails of complaint to the HSC.
The newspaper also wrote an editorial published that day headlined Too much fuss over a bottle boob which is the subject of Dr Small’s complaint.
The editorial argued breast-feeding advocacy groups including the League had over-reacted, and if they had not raised the issue, nobody would have noticed. The advertisement had been re-edited after a “furious response” from the groups.
It also said “the naysayers’ reaction has a rather distasteful whiff of patch protection about it” and concluded: “No one who does not spend all day worrying about breastfeeding, would have seen it as undermining of the idea that breast is best.”
Dr Small said the concluding remark was not an opinion but statement of fact and inaccurate and the organisations did not deserve the opprobrium the newspaper had heaped on them. All groups had acting properly within their areas of expertise.
It was not accurate to say that people viewing the clip would not see it as undermining the idea that breast was best, and it was inaccurate to describe the reaction as furious.
He believed the editorial was a thinly-veiled attack on the organisations and they had been subjected to unprecedented barrages of hate mail as a result.
The Editor’s Response
The editor of the Herald on Sunday, Bryce Johns, said in his response to Dr Small that the newspaper had reported on people being influenced at least subconsciously by the sort of clip that was to be shown, and the newspaper held no bias against the League.
Further, the editorial was the newspaper’s honestly-held opinion and it was entitled to its opinion. The League itself could have expressed its opinion in the letters column.
The editorial was clearly marked as such and was the newspaper’s opinion. The concluding sentence, in the view of the Press Council, is clearly an opinion.
Further, the Council has said that opinions can be expressed vigorously, even offensively, as along as they are based on facts. While there might be evidence that people can be influenced by such advertisements, the newspaper was still entitled to hold the opinion that broadcasting of the small clip would not have undermined advocacy of the promotion and supporting of breast-feeding.
The word “furious” can mean anger or rage but it is also capable of meaning rapid and in this context, the newspaper was entitled to use it. The use of the word “noise” in the editorial could also be justified based on the number of emails sent to the HSC.
The complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind and Stephen Stewart.
John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.