Case Number: 3300

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2022

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Children and Young People
Defamation/Damaging To Reputation


Stuff published an article on July 21, 2022, headlined A secret world of power, abuse, and cover-ups in New Zealand schools. This was the first of a series of stories about the abuse of children in the care of religious groups. This story reported on the sexual abuse of some boys who went to schools run by the Marist Brothers, the handling of the abuse when it was exposed, the lasting effects on these boys and the way their claims were handled.

Diane Taylor, on behalf of the Association of Catholic Women New Zealand, complained the articles were an attack on the hierarchy of the New Zealand Marist Order.

“I question why such an attack was thought to be warranted, despite the legitimacy of exposing sexual abuse by some Marists.”
The insinuation that unspecified Marists may be paedophiles could cast doubts on all Marists and be cause of great discomfort for those employed by them.

“As a Catholic I was offended by this article as it seems to me that it could cast doubts on the whole of the Marist Order which has done so much for education in New Zealand.” 

“These undeniably contentious articles are seen as an attack on the whole Catholic Church by those Catholics to whom they have caused distress. 

“The good name and reputation of hundreds of priests and brothers who forsook marriage and family to dedicate their lives under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, to educate young men could also be said to have been harmed.

“The media should be more cautious in their news reporting and so many articles from one reporter attacking Marist priests and brothers, using scurrilous material, can hardly be described as balanced journalism.”

Stuff Editor-in-Chief, Patrick Crewdson, said the series was not an attack on the Marist order, because the word attack implies malicious or aggressive intent. Rather, this is unbiased investigation on a serious topic of public interest.

“The series reveals prevalent and prolonged abuse within the Marist order, coupled with systematic cover ups. But I don’t agree that our reporting unfairly tarnishes the reputations of innocent people associated with the Marists.

Mr Crewdson said Stuff stood by the accuracy and fairness of the story complained about and the series.

The complainant has offered no evidence that the stories or facts were false or otherwise breached Media Council’s Principle 1 (accuracy, fairness, and balance). The Media Council cannot uphold on that ground. There is a legitimate public interest in exposing wrongdoing in all organisations and institutions and the media play an important role in our society when they do this. There is a heavy responsibility that goes with all reporting, particularly when reputations are at stake, and the first and most important ethical requirement is always to be accurate, fair, and balanced. This article has not been shown to be inaccurate.

In relation to balance and fairness, the Media Council can understand how good people affiliated to the Marist Order and the Catholic Church may be embarrassed by the misdeeds of some people within those organisations. These misdeeds as described in the article  compounded when Marist and church leaders failed to act in the best interests of all the children in their care - take responsibility, discipline the abusers, provide for those who suffered harm and protect other children from predators within their ranks.

The Marist Order is not the only charitable organisation that is subject to heavy criticism in this area.  There is no indication that the Marist Order would or could have provided any meaningful response to the facts outlined in the article.  It is unfortunate that good elements in the Marist order and the Catholic Church are suffering reputation damage, but this follows inevitably from the committal of the reported grave breaches of trust that the complainant does not convincingly refute.

Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.


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