JAVIN SIDHU AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2764

Council Meeting: MARCH 2019

Verdict: Not Upheld with Dissent

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Discrimination
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Complaint that several articles published in the New Zealand Herald about a troublesome group of tourists breached Media Council Principles 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance) and 7 (discrimination).

The complaint was not upheld by the majority of the Media Council 6:4.

Background

The New Zealand Herald published a series of articles between January 14-17 about a group of badly behaved tourists. The first article related to an incident at Takapuna beach where the tourists left litter on the ground and then abused other people who objected. Other articles related to incidents in restaurants where the tourists allegedly refused to pay for meals, damaged motel rooms and behaved objectionably on their flight from Hong Kong to New Zealand. The tourists were initially identified in news stories as Irish and Irish travellers although a member of the group later told theHerald they were English and showed passports to prove it.

Some members of the group were charged with criminal offences and deportation notices were also issued.

The Complaint

Javin Sidhu complained the Herald’s articles incorrectly labelled the group of people as Irish and unruly Irish travellers and had thus promoted and reinforced a negative stereotype. It was racist, promoted racism and had promoted racist and discriminatory views towards Irish people in New Zealand.

It failed in its duty of care to report the news truthfully and accurately.

He said the Herald should publicly apologise and redact articles with false, misleading, racist and discriminatory remarks.

The Response

NZME senior newsroom editor Oskar Alley said that during the first incident at Takapuna Beach the tourists told several locals they were Irish. This was reinforced by a video clip of a boy making physical threats against the witnesses in what was believed to be an Irish accent.

He then added that the first article’s reference to the group as being Irish was “simply adjectival” to describe a group of tourists who got into an argument with locals.

“When news happens we report what witnesses tell us they saw. We did do the fact checking, tracking the family all the way to Hamilton and confirming they are from England. Every other media organisation has cannibalised that interview and now the whole country is clear that they are English, not Irish. To suggest that any of that is racist is frankly feeble.”

Soon after the interview was published the earlier article was amended to refer to British tourists rather than Irish tourists.

Mr Alley also argued that Principle 1 (which relates to accuracy, fairness and balance) states that balance can be judged on a number of stories and the interview provided necessary balance and confirmation of the tourists’ nationalities.

He did not accept the complaint that the article promoted racism.At no stage was any gratuitous emphasis placed on the tourists’ ethnicity. Every article focused entirely on their anti-social behaviour and not where they were from.

Mr Alley said the group faced contempt and public backlash solely because of the anti-social and illegal behaviour. Their ethnicity was never the subject of the articles or the basis of any criticism.

The Decision

The Media Council notes comment by Irish Honorary Consul General Naimh McMahon who said news reporting which assumed this unruly family were Irish had reinforced hurtful stereotypes.

She said there had been a lot of feedback from members of the Irish community who were upset by the coverage and felt it was a case of Irish bashing. She called for an apology from the media who assumed the family was Irish.

It is also worth noting that “Irish travellers” is a term associated with the Irish gypsy community, an ethnic community who have often been demonised and the Irish Press Council refers specifically to them in its code of practice relating to prejudice:The press shall not publish material intended or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual or group on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, colour, ethnic origin, membership of the travelling community, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability illness or age.

The relevant New Zealand Media Council principle states that: 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.

Decision

The first ground for complaint was that the Herald was inaccurate when it referred to the unruly tourists as Irish.

The Herald mounted two defences. The first was that they were reporting what they were told by witnesses in Takapuna and that the young boy shown in cell phone footage spoke with what sounded like an Irish accent. It may have been the case that somebody said they were Irish but the stories stated it as fact.A rule in all reportage is that facts should be checked and that assumptions should not be made.

Reference to the group as being Irish and Irish travellers were repeated in several headlines and stories published over more than 24 hours. One of those in which theHerald reported a radio interview given by Auckland Mayor Phil Goff was headlinedFocus: “Worse than pigs”: Irish travellers “trash” fraudsters says Phil Goff.

This headline was harsh but it reflected intemperate comment made by the city’s leading politician and it was in the public interest for theHerald to report what he said.

That headline was later changed to remove the Irish traveller reference to read: “A bunch of a***holes”: Tourists “trash”, says Goff.

Corrections were also made to earlier stories and headlines after a Herald reporter, who secured an interview with a family member, was able to establish they were in fact British, rather than Irish.

So while initial reporting was inaccurate the Herald rectified this after it was able to establish the facts. The Media Council gives credit to publications that swiftly correct errors of fact and the complaint on principle 1 is therefore not upheld.

As for the complaint relating to discrimination the majority of the council accepted theHerald argument that the word Irish was “simply adjectival”. It was also felt that most New Zealanders would not consider the word “traveller” as a reference to gypsies as it is in Britain. The complaint under principle 7 is not upheld by the majority of the Council.

Three members Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff and Liz Brown dissented. They held that reference to the tourists as Irish and Irish travellers (as well as being inaccurate) amounted to gratuitous emphasis on race or status as a minority group.

Peter Fa’afiu joined the dissent on use of the term Irish travellers.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Marie Shroff, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.