JORIS DE BRES AGAINST WAIKATO TIMESJoris de Bres complains that an article published on May 10 2013 by the Waikato Times breached Principle 6 of the Press Council principles. Principle 6 concerns discrimination and diversity. It recognises that a number of issues, including race, are legitimate subjects for discussion when they are relevant and in the public interest but states that publications should not place gratuitous emphasis on any such category in their reporting.
The Press Council upholds Mr de Bres’ complaint.
On May 10, 2013 the Waikato Times reported, on its front page under the headline Rapists without remorse, the sentencing of two men for the violent rape of a young girl. The names of the men indicated some Indian ancestry, as did the photograph that accompanied the report. The headline of the report was Rapist pair show no remorse.
The report noted that a jury had previously “found the pair, of Fijian-Indian descent, guilty on multiple charges.” The judge was reported as saying that there were no mitigating features, that neither of the men was remorseful, and that they did not think they had done anything wrong and the sex was consensual.
Mr de Bres complains about the description of the men as of Fijian-Indian descent. He says their ethnicity is of no relevance to their crime and reference to it may feed prejudice against Fijian Indians in general. He believes the report placed gratuitous emphasis on the race of the men.
The Waikato Times response
The original response of the Waikato Times was to say briefly that the offenders’ race was a fact and that the defence lawyer had brought up his clients’ ethnicity as part of the defence.
The editor later expanded on the first response to explain that the men’s ethnicity had been mentioned by their counsel in a plea in mitigation, submitting that they had experienced difficulties in fitting in to New Zealand society. He also said that as the names and appearance of the men suggest they are of Indian descent, failing to specify their ethnicity could feed prejudice against the entire Indian community.
In addition, the report was clearly a news story and was a factual account of a sentencing hearing. In the view of the editor, it would not cause any reasonable person to be prejudiced against the wider Fijian-Indian community. It did not suggest that all Fijian Indian men were predisposed to commit rape or that they had other undesirable traits.
Discussion and Decision
The report in question is undoubtedly factually accurate, but the complaint is not one of inaccuracy. It is a complaint that gratuitous emphasis was placed on the offenders’ race.
There is no context in the report for the mention of the offenders’ race. It may well be that their background, cultural practices, immigration status and other matters of that nature were mentioned in the course of the sentencing hearing and were relevant to the sentence imposed, but there is no such mention in the report in the Waikato Times. Without any such context, the description of them as Fijian Indian is quite gratuitous and places an unnecessary emphasis on their race.
The complaint is upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.
Clive Lind took no part in the consideration of this complaint.