A complaint that a secondary headline in the Northland Times gave an inaccurate impression, has been upheld by the New Zealand Press Council. David Makaore had complained, through his lawyer, that the headline, printed on 2 February was inaccurate, racist and inappropriate in its format and that the accompanying article was partly inaccurate.

The Council upheld part of the complaint on the grounds that the secondary headline could have given an inaccurate impression that Mr Makaore had already been sentenced to prison. It did not uphold any other part of the complaint.

As a result of a serious double fatality car crash in November 1998, Mr Makaore pleaded guilty to charges of careless use of a motor vehicle causing death and injury and with breaking the conditions of his learner’s driving licence. The District Court Judge convicted him and remanded him on bail for sentence. On taking Mr Makaore’s guilty pleas Judge Lawrence Ryan said to him “you are only 18 years old and you are looking at prison.”

The Northland Times then printed a story accurately reporting the judge’s words. However the headline read: “Asleep at the wheel. Now its jail for man who killed friends.” The first four words were in a bold banner headline and the rest in a secondary headline.

Mr Makaore’s complaint to the Press Council was that the secondary headline was inaccurate and implied he had already been sent to jail. The complaint was laid two days after publication and before sentence, but the complainant was not ultimately sent to jail.

He also complained that the bold headline format used was unwarranted. In relation to the story he complained it said he had “partied the night away with friends.” The police said in court he had been to a party and the crash happened after 7 am when the group travelled to Whangarei.

Mr Makaore’s counsel had not had an opportunity to put information to the Court such as he was a designated sober driver and had a nil alcohol level when tested. Further he complained the headline was a racist reaction to a tragic incident because the Northland Times used such an overt tabloid-style headline. Other reports of largely pakeha young men causing other road deaths did not attract such bold headlining and inaccurate reporting before sentencing. Mr Makaore is Maori and complained that this was the reason for sensationalist treatment.

In response the newspaper justified the headlines because the first sentence of the article carried the accurate interpretation of the judge’s words. The change in format of the headline was co-incidental as the newspaper that day changed from the previous broadsheet format to tabloid format. Consequently Mr Makaore’s race played no part in the more “sensational” headline format and the Northland Times rejected the racist allegation.

The editor said the paper stood by the statement that Mr Makaore had partied the night away as an accurate account that he had been at a party all night.

The Press Council finds no evidence that the report was racist or that the change in headline format was more than a co-incidence. It also finds the newspaper accurately reported Mr Makaore had been at a party all night by saying he had “partied the night away.”

The Council upholds the part of the complaint that the secondary headline gave an inaccurate impression that Mr Makaore had already been sentenced to prison, but rejects the other parts of the complaint.


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