The New Zealand Press Council has upheld two complaints against The Southland Times for failing to display sufficient concern for the welfare of a 14-year-old boy who was the victim in a sex abuse case.
Both complaints revolve around an article published on the front page of the Times on 3 March 2003 carrying comments by former CYF worker Leigh Johnston following his conviction for indecent assault.
The essence of that article was repeated in an editorial the Times ran on 13 March defending the decision to publish Johnston’s comments.
The Council received complaints from both Mr Nobby Clark, manager of Invercargill Family Start, and Child Youth and Family regarding publication of Johnston’s comments.
In response the editor vigorously defended the paper’s coverage, apart from acknowledging that the heading on the interview was incorrect in describing Johnston as “accused” when he had already been convicted.
The Council does not wish to give further publicity to the comments in question but it notes that the question of whether publication of them was acceptable involves a balance between several of its principles.
The principles recognise that a publication is entitled to adopt a position of forthright advocacy and it recognizes the crucial importance of maintaining freedom of speech.
However, the Council also takes the view that in exercising those rights newspapers have to consider other factors. In its privacy principle, for instance, it notes that “those suffering from trauma or grief call for special consideration”. Further, in its principle on children and young people it states that, “Editors should have particular care and consideration for reporting on and about children and young people.”
The 14-year-old boy in this case was both a child and a victim who was likely to be suffering from trauma and so doubly entitled to consideration.
The Council believes there was no particular public interest to be served by publication of Johnston’s comments. On the other hand it was likely that publication would cause distress.

In the Council’s opinion the paper failed in its responsibility to show special consideration for a young person who had been the victim of indecent assault, had undergone the stress of a court appearance and was likely to be severely traumatised by his experiences. The complaints are upheld.


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