DENIS O'ROURKE AGAINST THE PRESS / STUFF

Case Number: 3165

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. Denis O’Rourke complains about an item published by The Press newspaper and online on Stuff on September 30, 2021.He considers there was a breach of Media Council Principle 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance). 

2. The Media Council does not uphold the complaint.

Background

3. The article that is the subject of the complaint is headed Former MP turned chauffeur Denis O’Rourke charged over fatal wedding day crash.  It begins by recording that Mr O’Rourke was charged with causing death by dangerous driving after his car collided with a motorbike while he was driving a bridal party to a wedding venue. The motorcyclist died at the scene.
 

4. The article continues with a brief description of Mr O’Rourke’s career followed by several paragraphs, mostly direct quotes, outlining his account of the events leading to the collision. The final part of the article is about the motorcyclist who died and is not relevant to Mr O’Rourke’s complaint.

The Complaint

5. Mr O’Rourke complains that the article falsely describes him as a chauffeur when he was the owner of the car. He says a chauffeur is a person employed to drive a car for the owner.  He believes the term was used, in conjunction with the description of him as a former MP, in a deliberate attempt to cause him embarrassment and humiliation.

6. Mr O’Rourke also complains that while the article correctly sets out his comments about the speed of his car (between 5 and 10 kph) it lacks balance in that it fails to comment on the high speed of the motorbike. In his view this was the cause of the collision and omitting to mention it resulted in gross imbalance. He says “The Press was more interested in causing reputational damage to me than giving anything like an accurate account of what had happened.” In comments on The Press response to his complaint, which explained why his comment on the speed of the motor-cyclist had been omitted from the article, he noted that there were at least five available police statements about the speed of the motorcyclist.

The Response

7. Kamala Hayman, the editor of The Press – Stuff Canterbury responded to Mr O’Rourke’s complaint. She assured him that there was no intention to humiliate him but rather to outline the facts fairly and clearly.

8. She noted that dictionary definitions of the word “chauffeur” make no mention of ownership.  One definition is “a person employed to drive a motor vehicle”. She understands that Mr O’Rourke was employed by the wedding organisers to drive the bridal party to the ceremony and accordingly was hired as a chauffeur for that party. The term was not used to cause reputational damage but to explain Mr O’Rourke’s role as driver of the car.

9. Although Ms Hayman was of the view that there had been no breach of any Media Council principle, she arranged to amend the story to record that Mr O’Rourke was the owner of the vehicle involved in the accident.

 
10. As to the second complaint, Ms Hayman notes that Mr O’Rourke was quoted extensively in the article and he has not suggested that any of the material quoted was inaccurate. The reporter considered Mr O’Rourke’s statement (that the motorcyclist was travelling at over 100kph) but thought it unsafe to publish “as there was no corroborating evidence for such a specific claim”. She was prepared to add to the story to say that he believed the rider was travelling at very high speeds.

The Decision

11. The Media Council can find no inaccuracy in the description of Mr O’Rourke’s role as a chauffeur. “Chauffeur” is in general use to describe a person who drives a vehicle for the benefit of its passengers, regardless of the ownership of the vehicle. It is, for example, common to hear parents talk about using the family car to chauffeur their children to events.

 
12. Equally, the Media Council can find no imbalance in the reporter’s omission of Mr O’Rourke’s comments on the speed of the motorcyclist. It is very clear from the report that he believes the motorcyclist was travelling at excessive speed, even though there is no specific mention of speed.

13. Although the article does not breach any of the Media Council principles, Ms Hayman has amended it in response to Mr O’Rourke’s concerns. This in itself should be sufficient to indicate that there was no intention to cause reputational damage, but in the interests of fairness and clarity, the Media Council finds that there is no evidence of any intention to cause such damage.

 
Determination

The complaint is not upheld.

 

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Sandy Gill, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff and Tim Watkin.

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