DR K.RAMAN AGAINST THE WAIKATO TIMES

The New Zealand Press Council has upheld a complaint against the Waikato Times for failing to honour the conditions under which an interview was agreed to.

The complainant, Dr Kannan Raman, was the father of one of two Hamilton teenagers who earlier this year went on a rampage of arson. After the two had been caught and dealt with by the courts the Waikato Times looked into how the sons of two well-to-do families could behave in such a way.

Dr Raman was interviewed by the paper and, along with the father of the other teenager, quoted at some length in the article which subsequently appeared. He had no objection to this, feeling that his experience might be helpful to other parents, but did not wish to be personally identified.

It is apparent from the correspondence that Dr Raman made it clear to the reporter that he was speaking with her on condition that he was not named, suggesting he be referred to as "a family source." In accordance with the paper¹s policy, the reporter said she would have to refer to someone in higher authority to see if his comments could be published anonymously.

Fifteen days later the deputy editor contacted Dr Raman and said the paper could not agree to his request for anonymity and the article would be published the next day using both his name and his comments. Although Dr Raman objected that he had only agreed to be interviewed if his name was not used, the article duly appeared, quoting him at length and giving not only his name but also his profession and place of work.

The article was an excellent piece of journalism, fair and well-balanced, and certainly did not hold Dr Raman or his family up to ridicule. The fact that it was able to identify the names of those being interviewed on the subject added to its credibility. Nevertheless, the doctor was upset at having his name published, felt the identification of his place of work had adversely affected him, and complained to the council.

Perhaps if Dr Raman had had more experience in dealing with the media he would have sent the reporter away until his request for anonymity had been decided. But probably in common with most members of the public it did not occur to him that might be necessary. He expected the newspaper to honour the basis on which he had agreed to be interviewed.

The paper was certainly entitled to use Dr Raman's name and that of his son in its article. But equally, if the conditions under which the doctor agreed to be interviewed were not accepted by the newspaper, then he was entitled to withdraw his comments. In the council's view a newspaper cannot unilaterally impose its own rules upon a member of the public while choosing to ignore any conditions he may have set. The complaint is therefore upheld.

The council is also disturbed that the fact that the newspaper waited until the last minute to advise Dr Raman of its decision meant he had little chance to consider his options to prevent publication.

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