Case Number: 921

Council Meeting: MARCH 2003

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Hawkes Bay Today

Ruling Categories: Privacy

A complaint has been made to the Press Council about a November 12 article in Hawke’s Bay Today identifying, by her profession and other family details, one of two sisters allegedly molested when children.

Written at the time that the accused molester had been charged (charges he denies) and bailed for a court appearance it did not name the woman, but breached legal rules automatically suppressing any material likely to identify witnesses to sex crimes.

There is newsworthiness in a child victim becoming an adult with the strength to fight back, but Hawke’s Bay Today went too far in descriptions that clearly led to a great deal of community gossip, and the identification of the woman. It is equally clear that the identification caused the family a great deal of distress. Highlighting the woman’s profession in the headline compounded the issue.

Since the complaint was made, editor Louis Pierard has given to the Press Council an unreserved concession of error. He added that the experience had proved salutary for his staff, who had been reminded that in all such cases it was essential they err on the side of extreme caution.

The facts – and the rights and wrongs of this complaint - are therefore not in dispute. And the paper has subsequently been penalised for its transgression after a police-instigated prosecution led to it being fined $750 (plus $130 costs) – a higher sum than that sought by the police. The newspaper had pleaded guilty.

In normal circumstances the court action would have precluded any further involvement by the Press Council. But the woman has pressed her case on the grounds the court action was not hers and that the court had not considered the moral or ethical issues of the publication.

The publication of the details was a breach of journalistic ethics and nothing further needs to be said.

The complaint is upheld.