GUY HALLWRIGHT AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALDGuy Hallwright complained to the New Zealand Press Council that a series of articles published in the New Zealand Herald after being found guilty of the criminal charge of causing grievous bodily harm with reckless disregard breached the Council’s principles relating to accuracy, fairness and balance.
The complaint is not upheld by a majority of 5:3.
In September 2010, Mr Hallwright was driving with his daughter in Auckland when he and another driver, Song-Jin Kim, had a difference of opinion over driving behaviour which led the former to give what Judge Raoul Neave would later describe as “a well-recognised gesture of dissatisfaction” and a “verbal accompaniment.”
When both vehicles stopped close to each other, Mr Hallwright had walked up to the driver’s side of Mr Kim’s car and asked him what his problem was, or words to that effect. He had then shut the car’s door and returned to his own vehicle.
He had begun to manoeuvre his car back into the line of traffic when Mr Kim approached his vehicle in what was later described as an aggressive and demonstrative way and began banging his hands on the bonnet.
As Mr Hallwright pulled out, Mr Kim had gone under a wheel, suffering two broken legs and a broken ankle as a result.
Mr Hallwright continued on, telephoned the police, deposited his daughter at an appointment and returned to the accident scene. Later, he was charged with causing grievous bodily harm with reckless disregard, found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 250 hours of community work. He was also ordered to pay emotional harm reparation of $20,000. An earlier charge alleging a deliberate intention to cause harm had been dismissed by the judge after the Crown case.
The court case was widely reported and remarks made by the judge in sentencing were to attract further wide publicity.
Judge Neave, while acknowledging the serious injuries suffered by Mr Kim, was critical of the media’s “prurient” interest in the case, commented on whether the charge should have been reckless driving causing injury laid under the Land Transport Act 1998, referred to Mr Hallwright’s “impeccable character” and said descriptions of the incident as “hit and run” were irresponsible and inappropriate.
Through his lawyer, Mr Hallwright complained to the editor of the New Zealand Herald on September 27 and referred to five articles relating to his sentencing on August 30, 2012.
On August 31, under the heading, Banker’s sentence shocks his victim, and a sub-heading Judge tells off media for prurience, praises defendant as ‘impeccable’, the Herald reported how the victim was shocked by the leniency of the sentence.
On September 1, on the front-page, the Weekend Herald carried the headline Witness slams judge with the overline: ‘The sentencing is a joke. If it’s not hit-and-run. What the hell is it?’
The newspaper reported how a witness to the incident, who had given evidence, was “outraged” by comments from the judge during the sentencing, particularly the judge’s criticism of the media for calling it a hit-and-run.
On the same day, the newspaper also published an editorial critical of the judge.
There were further articles on September 6 and 15, one referring to a lawyer prepared to work free of charge for Mr Kim and another on the possibility of an appeal by the Crown. The appeal did not proceed.
The complaint said the articles breached the Press Council’s Principle 1 relating to accuracy, fairness and balance and not deliberately misleading by commission or omission. Also, a fair voice had to be given to opposing views.
The articles when read as a whole with their pejorative headlines portrayed Mr Hallwright as being guilty of “a deliberate hit and run road rage, as commonly understood, who intentionally caused serious harm to Mr Kim.”
The reader was led to believe the sentence was inadequate and should have been a jail sentence, and that he had received favourable treatment from the judge because he was an investment banker, which the complaint noted was not his occupation.
The articles ignored or gave an unbalanced account of all the facts and circumstances, including Mr Kim’s “particularly aggressive manner” and Mr Hallwright’s fears for the safety of his daughter and himself.
He expressed surprise that the comments of just one witness should be used. The articles also ignored the Judge’s reference to the Sentencing Act which made it inappropriate to impose a custodial sentence. Among other facts downplayed was his genuine remorse at what had happened. It was unfair to suggest, as the articles did, that he had got off lightly.
In his initial response, the editor of the Weekend Herald, David Hastings, said he did not accept the newspaper had breached Press Council principles. The reports gave a fair and accurate summary of the judge’s comments and criticism of the comments.
The newspaper had interviewed the victim, a witness who was critical of the judge as well as seeking comment from others “in the light of the controversy that erupted after sentencing.” It also sought comment from Mr Hallwright.
The editor said the reports did not portray Mr Hallwright as being guilty of a “deliberate hit-and-run road rage, as commonly understood.” The term, hit and run, is not commonly understood to mean a deliberate act. “All it means is that a vehicle hits someone and the driver leaves the scene rather than stopping to render assistance.”
In his complaint to the Press Council, Mr Hallwright’s lawyer said the reports were not a fair and accurate report of the judge’s comments, and they portrayed him in a way that was deliberately unfavourable. They did not tell all the facts of the case and mitigating facts in his favour.
Had the mitigating facts been published, readers would have understood he was not involved in a hit and run as commonly understood, he did not receive favourable treatment and that a jail term was inappropriate.
Photographs published on August 31 were also prejudicial and the article indicated the victim had been treated poorly by the court. Comments from Associate Professor Bill Hodge in the same article reinforced that view.
Similarly, the September 1 article confirmed Mr Hallwright was involved in a hit and run incident for which he received a “joke” sentence. The hit and run aspect was mentioned in other articles as well.
The overall portrayal was not fair or accurate about what took place, rather it was biased and one-sided.
The media should report court proceedings and they should scrutinise and comment on decisions. But such coverage should be in a fair and balanced way based on all the facts.
Mr Hallwright’s lawyer disputed the editor’s understanding of the term hit and run. The initial “hitting” might not be deliberate but “running” was a deliberate act and the average reader would take that to mean a person deliberately and callously leaving the scene to escape detention. He had been portrayed that way throughout the articles.
In his formal response, the editor said the stories selected for the substance of the complaint were a small part of a long series of reports on a running story that began long before the court case and continued some time later.
There were in fact two running stories – Mr Hallwright’s trial and the controversy that arose afterwards because many people thought he had received a lenient sentence and the judge’s comments were injudicious.
The complaint relied to a great extent on insisting that certain points made by the judge were not reported in the Herald. Yet every point claimed to be omitted was in fact reported with appropriate wording.
The editor set out over some length how the newspaper had covered the points of complaint, particularly the mitigating factors in Mr Hallwright’s favour.
He reiterated his belief the term hit and run did not mean that a driver deliberately ran someone over.
“Any reasonable reading can only conclude that the coverage was fair, balanced and accurate. We properly followed up the controversy that erupted as a result of the judge’s comments. And we also gave substantial coverage to Mr Hallwright’s version of events not only in the reports of sentencing but also at the time he was found guilty and during the trial itself,” the editor said.
Proceedings following the incident between Mr Hallwright and Mr Kim were undoubtedly newsworthy. The incident happened in a public place, in central Auckland, in broad daylight and was witnessed by others. It was always going to attract attention and therefore publicity.
The Press Council can understand Mr Hallwright’s discomfort, not just through coverage of his case but also in finding that his sentencing continued to attract considerable publicity because of the judge’s remarks, especially when the various articles were accompanied by bold, even provocative headlines and arrangement of photographs, including the front page. In a sense it could be argued that the further publicity given to Mr Hallwright was collateral to the commentary on the sentencing.
Yet it cannot be said that the articles and headings in their totality were inaccurate. Mr Hastings’ rebuttal of the complaint based on what the Herald reported is a convincing one.
It was the judge’s opinion that the media coverage of the case was “prurient” but he was not specific about what coverage. In any event, the Herald well covered what the judge thought.
Fairness and balance require consideration as well. While the presentation was undoubtedly bold, the details contained within the articles were once again highly newsworthy, such as the comments of a dissatisfied Mr Kim and a witness who sought out the newspaper to say the judge’s remarks were offensive.
It was also reasonable for the Herald to report comments from various members of the legal profession, who also expressed disquiet at the leniency of sentence.
More balance could have been provided by Mr Hallwright when he was approached for comment but he chose not to – as was his right.
Mr Hallwright (and the judge) said the incident could not be called “hit and run.” It was certainly the view of the aggrieved witness that the incident was such a case and the Herald had no reason not to refer to it as such. Once again, the views of both sides were well covered in the various articles.
By a majority of 5:3 the complaint is not upheld.
Dissenting votes were cast by three Press Council members (Chris Darlow, Stephen Stewart and Tim Beaglehole)
The dissenters felt Mr Hallwright had been unduly pilloried by successive stories and the public left with the impression that a wealthy banker had "got away with" a lenient sentence after injuring the victim man in a road-rage, hit-and-run incident. Mr Hallwright was not a banker and the "road rage" comment was a NZ Herald description in a caption to a picture featuring Mr Hallwright.
The judge noted this was not a hit and run in the generally accepted sense in that Mr Hallwright did not drive away to escape attention or detection. He had, in fact, called the police shortly after the incident so references to hit and run were “as irresponsible as they were inappropriate.”
There was the sense that the Herald had set out to demonise Mr Hallwright. The Herald was entitled to criticise the Judge, and the sentence, but the treatment of the stories and its coverage had crossed the line particularly through the 1 September front page lead prominence, with accompanying pictures, given to just one witness in the case. The Herald’s approach could have led to the perception that the Herald was aggrieved with the Judge for his critical comments of the media's reporting, and that its coverage was motivated by this.
The three members considered the coverage was unfair to Mr Hallwright and would have upheld the complaint.
Sandy Gill, Clive Lind, Keith Lees, Penny Harding and Pip Bruce Ferguson did not uphold the complaint.
Chris Darlow, Stephen Stewart and Tim Beaglehole would have upheld the complaint.
Barry Paterson abstained from voting.
John Roughan and Kate Coughlan took no part in the consideration of the complaint.