DOMINIC TIMMON AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2664

Council Meeting: MAY 2018

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Privacy
Social Media
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. On March 19 Stuff published a story headlined “Married at First Sight NZ contestant Dom Timmon says post MAFS love life is miserable”.

2. The story concerned one of the Married at First Sight (MAFS) New Zealand contestants, Dominic Timmon, whose public marriage break-up on the reality TV show garnered considerable publicity when it aired. The story quoted a video post on fellow MAFS contestant Haydn Daniels’ Instagram feed in which Mr Timmon lamented his lack of dating success since appearing on the show.

3. It said Mr Timmon had described his love life as “pretty miserable” and life since his failed marriage to contestant Claire Lawless was “even more dreary”.

4. The Stuff story said Timmon’s reality TV show marriage had failed after he accidentally sent a critical “ranty” text, intended for a friend, to his new wife while she was in hospital.

The Complaint

5. Mr Timmon complained that the story published online by Stuff breached Principles 1, Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; 2 Privacy; and 4 Comment and Fact.

6. He said Stuff had written the story, based on comments he made on an Instagram video post, without his permission; nor had they consulted him.

7. He said his comments were tongue-in-cheek and meant as a joke. The Stuff story had caused acute embarrassment to himself and his family.

8. He said he had not used the words “miserable” and “dreary” to describe his post-MAFS love life.

9. In email correspondence with the Media Council, Mr Timmon referred to an email he had sent to a Stuff reporter on March 18, asking if the fact that women seemed less interested in him since the TV show would be considered newsworthy. He said he would have expected to have a first read of such a story before it went to press.

10. Commenting on his friend’s Instagram video post was entirely different, he said. Stuff had sensationalised his comments in a story which was “untruthful, skewed and certainly not newsworthy”.

The Response

11. Emma Chamberlain, Chief Channel Director (Life and Style) for Stuff, acknowledged that the quotes used in the story were taken from a video posted on Haydn Daniels’ Instagram Stories feed. Because of the nature of Instagram Stories, which cannot be downloaded and are available for only 24 hours, the post was no longer available.

12. Ms Chamberlain said the video was posted on a public forum, and she believed the comments were transcribed and reported accurately. She said Stuff assessed the need to contact subjects who made statements on a public forum like Instagram and other social media platforms on a case-by-case basis.

13. In Mr Timmon’s case, she said, he was a public figure, had been in touch with Stuff the previous day seeking publicity for a similar story, and would have been aware the video post would be seen by Haydn Daniels’ 30,000 followers; therefore the editorial team did not deem it necessary to get in touch.

14. Clarifying the sequence of events, Ms Chamberlain said the Stuff entertainment teams’ first contact with Mr Timmon in relation to this story was on March 18 when he approached Stuff reporter Glenn McConnell. Ms Chamberlain quoted from Mr Timmon’s email, in which he wrote: “Women seem to be avoiding me like the plague. I had much more success from my efforts to find a partner prior to the show,” and “I do not have any regrets about going on the show, none whatsoever. I accept my fate. However, I wondered if you thought this was newsworthy?”

15. She said the reporter did not act on the email as he was on a day off. The following day, coincidentally, another reporter noticed a video on the Instagram feed of Mr Timmon’s fellow MAFS contestant Haydn Daniels.

16. The reporter transcribed the conversation, and quoted from it in her subsequent March 19 article.

17. Ms Chamberlain defended Stuff’s actions.

18. On the question of Principle 1, Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, she said although Mr Timmon denied saying his dating life post MAFS was “miserable”, the reporter was confident she had accurately transcribed the conversation, in which the complainant had answered a question about his lack of success on dating websites, saying, “Well, pretty miserable to be honest with you Haydn, women seem to be treating me like a bit of a pariah."

19. Mr Timmon denied describing his love life as “dreary”. Ms Chamberlain says the story does not attribute the quote to him; it was an adjective used by the reporter to describe his dating struggles.

20. Mr Timmon also complained that what was meant as a light-hearted comment had been taken the wrong way. Ms Chamberlain said there was nothing in his quotes to suggest he was making a joke; moreover in his March 18 email to Stuff, Mr Timmon had described his love life as “cursed”, which could be taken as evidence the reporter had correctly interpreted the tone and sentiment of the video.

21. On Principle 2, Privacy, Ms Chamberlain said that given Mr Timmon was aware his comments would be made public when he agreed to Mr Daniels’ Instagram post, and given that he sought and achieved a high public profile through his involvement on MAFS, Stuff backed the actions of the reporter in quoting him without first seeking permission.

22. She said it is standard practice for media to monitor the social media feeds of celebrities and TV personalities, and it is not credible for such celebrities to claim they expect comments on such forums to remain private, especially when they have sought publicity for similar comments the day before as Mr Timmon did in his email to reporter Glenn McConnell.

23. Ms Chamberlain maintained that although Mr Timmon says he is no longer a public figure, the fact that he sought publicity for his predicament the day before making his complaint, suggests it is clear he still trades on his public identity.

24. She denied there was any basis for a complaint under Principle 4, Comment and Fact.

The Decision

25. The perils of individuals commenting on social media platforms without fully realising the consequences are highlighted perfectly in this complaint, where a former TV reality show contestant discussed his private life on the Instagram feed of a friend who has 30,000 followers, and was then horrified to find his comments had been reported in a Stuff news item. Mr Timmon says he and his teenage children were acutely embarrassed by the story, and complains that Stuff did not ask permission, nor consult him before they published the article.

26. Yet given that Mr Timmon had achieved a certain notoriety when he appeared on the TV reality show Married at First Sight NZ in 2017, which aired comments of a highly personal nature by all contestants, and that just the day before the article was published by Stuff, he had approached a reporter to write a story about the irony of his hapless love life, we find his comments about the negative emotional effect the Stuff story had on him to be somewhat disingenuous.

27. This is not the first complaint about the media’s unauthorised use of comments and images taken from social media, and it most certainly will not be the last. The fact is the media landscape has changed dramatically over the past decade, and individuals are naive if they post personal comments or photographs, and believe they are immune. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter et al are all public forums - that is what social media is. Contacting individuals for comment is still recommended ‘best practice’ for journalists, but the reality is that since social media entered the mainstream the ‘rules’ have changed and they are not legally required to do so.

28. Stuff did not breach any Media Council principles in this matter.

29. The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Chris Darlow, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tracy Watkins.

Tim Watkin stood down to maintain a public member majority.

1. On March 19 Stuff published a story headlined “Married at First Sight NZ contestant Dom Timmon says post MAFS love life is miserable”.

2. The story concerned one of the Married at First Sight (MAFS) New Zealand contestants, Dominic Timmon, whose public marriage break-up on the reality TV show garnered considerable publicity when it aired. The story quoted a video post on fellow MAFS contestant Haydn Daniels’ Instagram feed in which Mr Timmon lamented his lack of dating success since appearing on the show.

3. It said Mr Timmon had described his love life as “pretty miserable” and life since his failed marriage to contestant Claire Lawless was “even more dreary”.

4. The Stuff story said Timmon’s reality TV show marriage had failed after he accidentally sent a critical “ranty” text, intended for a friend, to his new wife while she was in hospital.

5. Mr Timmon complained that the story published online by Stuff breached Principles 1, Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; 2 Privacy; and 4 Comment and Fact.

6. He said Stuff had written the story, based on comments he made on an Instagram video post, without his permission; nor had they consulted him.

7. He said his comments were tongue-in-cheek and meant as a joke. The Stuff story had caused acute embarrassment to himself and his family.

8. He said he had not used the words “miserable” and “dreary” to describe his post-MAFS love life.

9. In email correspondence with the Media Council, Mr Timmon referred to an email he had sent to a Stuff reporter on March 18, asking if the fact that women seemed less interested in him since the TV show would be considered newsworthy. He said he would have expected to have a first read of such a story before it went to press.

10. Commenting on his friend’s Instagram video post was entirely different, he said. Stuff had sensationalised his comments in a story which was “untruthful, skewed and certainly not newsworthy”.

11. Emma Chamberlain, Chief Channel Director (Life and Style) for Stuff, acknowledged that the quotes used in the story were taken from a video posted on Haydn Daniels’ Instagram Stories feed. Because of the nature of Instagram Stories, which cannot be downloaded and are available for only 24 hours, the post was no longer available.

12. Ms Chamberlain said the video was posted on a public forum, and she believed the comments were transcribed and reported accurately. She said Stuff assessed the need to contact subjects who made statements on a public forum like Instagram and other social media platforms on a case-by-case basis.

13. In Mr Timmon’s case, she said, he was a public figure, had been in touch with Stuff the previous day seeking publicity for a similar story, and would have been aware the video post would be seen by Haydn Daniels’ 30,000 followers; therefore the editorial team did not deem it necessary to get in touch.

14. Clarifying the sequence of events, Ms Chamberlain said the Stuff entertainment teams’ first contact with Mr Timmon in relation to this story was on March 18 when he approached Stuff reporter Glenn McConnell. Ms Chamberlain quoted from Mr Timmon’s email, in which he wrote: “Women seem to be avoiding me like the plague. I had much more success from my efforts to find a partner prior to the show,” and “I do not have any regrets about going on the show, none whatsoever. I accept my fate. However, I wondered if you thought this was newsworthy?”

15. She said the reporter did not act on the email as he was on a day off. The following day, coincidentally, another reporter noticed a video on the Instagram feed of Mr Timmon’s fellow MAFS contestant Haydn Daniels.

16. The reporter transcribed the conversation, and quoted from it in her subsequent March 19 article.

17. Ms Chamberlain defended Stuff’s actions.

18. On the question of Principle 1, Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, she said although Mr Timmon denied saying his dating life post MAFS was “miserable”, the reporter was confident she had accurately transcribed the conversation, in which the complainant had answered a question about his lack of success on dating websites, saying, “Well, pretty miserable to be honest with you Haydn, women seem to be treating me like a bit of a pariah."

19. Mr Timmon denied describing his love life as “dreary”. Ms Chamberlain says the story does not attribute the quote to him; it was an adjective used by the reporter to describe his dating struggles.

20. Mr Timmon also complained that what was meant as a light-hearted comment had been taken the wrong way. Ms Chamberlain said there was nothing in his quotes to suggest he was making a joke; moreover in his March 18 email to Stuff, Mr Timmon had described his love life as “cursed”, which could be taken as evidence the reporter had correctly interpreted the tone and sentiment of the video.

21. On Principle 2, Privacy, Ms Chamberlain said that given Mr Timmon was aware his comments would be made public when he agreed to Mr Daniels’ Instagram post, and given that he sought and achieved a high public profile through his involvement on MAFS, Stuff backed the actions of the reporter in quoting him without first seeking permission.

22. She said it is standard practice for media to monitor the social media feeds of celebrities and TV personalities, and it is not credible for such celebrities to claim they expect comments on such forums to remain private, especially when they have sought publicity for similar comments the day before as Mr Timmon did in his email to reporter Glenn McConnell.

23. Ms Chamberlain maintained that although Mr Timmon says he is no longer a public figure, the fact that he sought publicity for his predicament the day before making his complaint, suggests it is clear he still trades on his public identity.

24. She denied there was any basis for a complaint under Principle 4, Comment and Fact.

25. The perils of individuals commenting on social media platforms without fully realising the consequences are highlighted perfectly in this complaint, where a former TV reality show contestant discussed his private life on the Instagram feed of a friend who has 30,000 followers, and was then horrified to find his comments had been reported in a Stuff news item. Mr Timmon says he and his teenage children were acutely embarrassed by the story, and complains that Stuff did not ask permission, nor consult him before they published the article.

26. Yet given that Mr Timmon had achieved a certain notoriety when he appeared on the TV reality show Married at First Sight NZ in 2017, which aired comments of a highly personal nature by all contestants, and that just the day before the article was published by Stuff, he had approached a reporter to write a story about the irony of his hapless love life, we find his comments about the negative emotional effect the Stuff story had on him to be somewhat disingenuous.

27. This is not the first complaint about the media’s unauthorised use of comments and images taken from social media, and it most certainly will not be the last. The fact is the media landscape has changed dramatically over the past decade, and individuals are naive if they post personal comments or photographs, and believe they are immune. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter et al are all public forums - that is what social media is. Contacting individuals for comment is still recommended ‘best practice’ for journalists, but the reality is that since social media entered the mainstream the ‘rules’ have changed and they are not legally required to do so.

28. Stuff did not breach any Media Council principles in this matter.

29. The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Chris Darlow, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tracy Watkins.

Tim Watkin stood down to maintain a public member majority.