G H LUSTY AGAINST BAY OF PLENTY TIMESThe New Zealand Press Council this month dealt with a two-pronged complaint about the use of photographs of accident scenes.
It decided that, in its view, news shots of crashes should be re-used after the initial news report only with great caution.
The Council suggested the re-use of accident photos would always be a matter for editors and or their deputies to decide, taking into account issues such as the circumstances of the crash, and sensitivity to the feelings of next-of-kin. At the same time, it confirmed its belief that decisions about crash-scene photographs were rightly within the prerogative of the editor, and that public-interest considerations about
issues such as drinking-and-driving, speed, wearing of seatbelts and the strapping-in of small children may sometimes override the personal grief of next-of-kin.
The Council’s finding followed a complaint from a couple in the Bay of Plenty who learned of their son’s death in an early-morning accident on the Kaimai Ranges by recognising his van and personal effects from a vividly written report and graphic photograph in the afternoon edition of the Bay of Plenty Times that day.
Their grief was aggravated by a repeat publication of the photograph in the same newspaper five weeks later in an advertising feature on drinking and driving. Alcohol was not a factor in their son’s death.
The editor of the newspaper explained that the first photograph, published last December, was handled carefully because it was not clear if next-of-kin had been notified. Therefore, the name of the man who had been killed, was not published, and the van’s number plate was not shown.
The Press Council said it understood and sympathised with the distress of the driver’s parents. However it did not uphold this part of the complaint. While the paper had taken a risk in publishing a graphic report and photograph of the accident when it was still uncertain if next-of-kin had been advised, the Council found little exceptional in its actions.
However the Council did uphold the family’s second complaint, that relating to re-publication of the photograph of the crash scene in its advertising feature on drinking and driving. It noted the editor had apologised to the family as soon as this was drawn to his attention. In apologising, he had explained that people involved with the advertising feature had taken the photograph from the newspaper’s files without
telling anyone. Procedures had been put in place to prevent any recurrence. In his letter the editor said he could not understand how anyone could have considered it acceptable to use the photograph in such a context. The Press Council considered the editor’s apology was wholly appropriate.
Mr Jim Eagles, editor of the Bay of Plenty Times and a member of the Press Council did not attend the Council meeting which considered the complaint.