Case Number: 2802

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2019

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Mediaworks

Ruling Categories: Discrimination


Gregory Cooper complains that a May 7, 2019 Newshub article “Obese passenger on doomed Russian flight blamed for blocking escape” was discriminatory and offensive.

Mr Cooper says Principles 6 (Headlines and Captions) and Principle 7 (Discrimination and Diversity) have been breached


The story reported that an obese passenger on a crashed plane in Moscow had been accused of “blocking others from reaching safety because he insisted on getting his bag out of the overhead locker.”

Forty-one people had died after the aircraft caught fire. It made an emergency landing at a Moscow airport, where passengers evacuated.

Obese survivor Dmitry Khlebushkin was singled out for allegedly blocking others from escaping the burning aircraft while he got his backpack. Russian media reports that no one seated behind Khlebushkin survived.

After escaping the plane, Mr Khlebushkin demanded a refund and complained that “in the end I did not get it at all."

The Complaint

Mr Cooper says the article is discriminatory and offensive, and the reference to Khlebushkin’s obesity was of no material importance to the story. “The subject is allegedly a selfish idiot who caused others to lose their life. His body mass index is irrelevant.”

The Response

Robert Dowd, for the MediaWorks Standards Committee, said the complaint was discussed withNewsHub’s online manager editor, who was satisfied that the reference to Mr Khlebushkin’s size was relevant. The committee agreed.

This was the response given to Mr Cooper, after his complaint to MediaWorks.

Mr Dowd advised that MediaWorks was also happy for this response to be considered by the Media Council, when considering Mr Cooper’s Media Council complaint.

The Discussion

Principle 7 – Discrimination and Diversity

Principle 7 says issues of gender, religion, minority groups, sexual orientation, age, race, colour or physical or mental disability are legitimate subjects for discussion where they are relevant and in the public interest, and publications may report and express opinions in these areas.

Publications should not, however, place gratuitous emphasis on any such category in their reporting.

The Media Council considers that the reference to Mr Khlebushkin’s obesity is relevant to the story and is not gratuitous. A key portion of the story focuses on delays that stopped passengers exiting the aircraft and surviving. These delays are attributed to passengers taking time to grab hand luggage, to take with them.

Mr Khlebushkin is in this category, and his obesity could be considered to be a factor that delayed his exit, and importantly delayed the exit of those behind him by blocking the aisle. The story reports that no one behind him survived, which justifies examination of all the factors that delayed Mr Khlebushkin’s exit from the aircraft.

Not Upheld

Principle 6 – Headlines and Captions

Principle 6 says headlines, sub-headings, and captions should accurately and fairly convey the substance or a key element of the report they are designed to cover. The Media Council considers that the story’s headline, sub-headings, and captions are accurate.

Not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.


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