Case Number: 2581

Council Meeting: JUNE 2017

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Herald On Sunday

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
Unfair Coverage


The Herald on Sunday published an on-line article on statistics about the New Zealand Police’s use of force. The article began with information about the use of a police dog to locate an offender. The headline read ‘Police set dog on 12 year old hiding in kindergarten.’

The Complaint

Two complaints have been received by the Press Council.

David Horne contends that the headline is inflammatory and breaches Principle 6: Headlines and Captions; whereby headlines, sub-headings, and captions should accurately and fairly convey the substance or a key element of the report they are designed to cover and Principle 1: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance.

Doug Dallimore also includes Principle 2: Comment and Fact stating the article was misleading because it called a sixteen year old a ‘child’ when the correct term should be young adult. The use of images of police dogs is also included under Principle 4: Photographs and Graphics in Mr Dallimore’s complaint.

The Response

The Herald on Sunday rejects the complaints stating that the headline accurately reflects the data outlined in the article and the story is accurate, fair and balanced.

The Discussion

Much of the article presents data about the use of Police force on children with commentary from an expert (the Children’s Commissioner, Judge Becroft). It also outlines the detail of the incident on which the headline is based.

While the article moves on to consider the over-representation of Maori in the statistics and the use of force on people with mental illness, the headline does convey a message based on the substance of much of the article, albeit a single example of the broader data discussed.

The use of a an image of a police dog (noting there were different images in the print and on-line version but portraying a similar image) to accompany the article again is in line with the essence of the article but again only a single example of the types of force described the article.

The issue raised concerns about the accuracy of the definition of a ‘child’. Legal and common sense definitions usually account the age of children as up to 18. Sixteen year olds are commonly considered children. The article is therefore accurate.

The complaints are not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Hank Schouten, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


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