DAWN FRESHWATER AGAINST RNZ

Case Number: 3059

Council Meeting: JUNE 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Radio NZ

Ruling Categories: Privacy

Overview

[1] The University of Auckland Vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater complained thatRNZ breached her privacy by publishing details of a private trip she took to Australia in a story about New Zealanders who had travelled overseas in spite of the Government’s “do not travel” advisory.

[2] The complaint under Principle 2: Privacy is not upheld.

Background

[3] On 25 March 2021, RNZ published a story headed: “Hundreds take overseas holidays despite ‘don’t travel’ advice.”The story said that some New Zealanders had not waited until the travel bubble opened before heading to Australia. Since the Government had issued a “do not travel” advisory”, 10,000 New Zealanders had “bypassed that advice to embark on return overseas trips”, the story said.

[4] University of Auckland Vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater was among 1363 New Zealanders who travelled in December and January to visit friends and relatives, the story said. The university was quoted as saying she paid for her own managed isolation in New Zealand, and was in Australia making use of the “one-way travel bubble arrangements”.

The Complaint

[5] Dawn Freshwater complained that the story was in breach of Principle 2: Privacy. “The travel was done in my private capacity only, not in my capacity as Vice-chancellor of the University of Auckland.” The university did not fund any of the travel. Although there might be public interest in reporting her actions in her capacity as Vice-Chancellor, she had a right to privacy in her private life. As required by Principle 2, there was no public interest, let alone a significant public interest in reporting her private travel to Australia to visit family in December/January. The situation was aggravated by the fact that she was the only person named of the 1363 people who travelled, so it was unfair to single her out, Professor Freshwater said.

[6] In subsequent correspondence, after RNZ removed the two paragraphs about her from the story, she asked for an acknowledgement thatRNZ had breached her privacy and an apology. She also asked that the article be amended to note that it had been edited to remove personal information in breach of Principle 2 and apologising for that breach.

The Response

[7] RNZ replied that they had removed the personal details on 25 March, out of courtesy and a sense of fairness, and denied there was any privacy breach. There was a legitimate public interest in the behaviour of public officials. That Professor Freshwater chose to ignore Government advice and travel to Australia, albeit in a private capacity, was a matter of legitimate public interest in terms of the example provided to the many thousands of people she leads in the institution, as well as in a wider capacity.

[8] If the story was to be annotated as Professor Freshwater requested, RNZ would need to identify the person whose details were removed which seemed counterintuitive.RNZ offered to outline in a letter that the personal details were removed.

[9] In further correspondence, RNZ noted that the University of Auckland had confirmed the details following a media inquiry about her travel to Australia. Therefore the matter was no longer private and, if there was an issue of privacy, it might be with the controls over releasing information from the university.

[10] Professor Freshwater replied to this last point, saying that the university did not adviseRNZ that she had travelled to Australia. RNZ had learned this somehow before they questioned the university about it. The university response clarified that the travel was not in a university capacity (if it had been,RNZ would have been free to publish). Following the response, the information was not published, but about five weeks later it was used “to liven up” a loosely related story, Professor Freshwater said. It was absurd forRNZ to suggest that the university’s response somehow caused the information to no longer be private. The university must be free to correct errors and misunderstandings without this excusing the journalist from complying with the privacy principle.

The Decision

[11] Professor Freshwater says RNZ breached her privacy by publishing details of her private trip to Australia, when there was no public interest in this travel, as it was not in her university capacity and not funded by the university.RNZ says that as a leader of a major public institution, there was legitimate public interest, as she was not following Government guidelines.

[12] Principle 2 states in part: “Everyone is normally 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 significant matters of public record or public interest.”

[13] Professor Freshwater is in a prominent public position, leading a large organisation that receives significant Government funding, so the Media Council agrees withRNZ that there was some level of public interest in her decision to travel against Government advice. Her trip to Australia to visit family was also not something that would be regarded as so intensely private that an ordinary person would be particularly offended by having it published, so the combination of these two factors meant there was no privacy breach.

[14] What is also relevant is whether the report was fair. As Professor Freshwater points out, she was the only person who was singled out in the story.RNZ did not publish details of the trip at the time of the initial inquiry, but it was included in a story five weeks later. In the Council’s opinion, the inclusion of the material about her trip did not add anything particularly significant to the story. The Council considers that any element of unfairness was dealt with appropriately byRNZ’s decision to promptly remove the two paragraphs.

[15] The complaint under Principle 2 of breach of privacy is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Marie Shroff and Tim Watkin.

Hank Schouten stood down to maintain the public member majority.

Complaints

Lodge a new Complaint.

MAKE A COMPLAINT MAKE A COMPLAINT

Rulings

Search for previous Rulings.

SEARCH FOR RULINGS SEARCH FOR RULINGS
New Zealand Media Council

© 2021 New Zealand Media Council.
Website development by Fueldesign.

Reach Us

NZ Media Council
79 boulcott street
Wellington, 6011
New Zealand

PO Box 10 879,
Wellington, 6143