JULIE THOMS AGAINST SUNDAY STAR-TIMES

Case Number: 2814

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2019

Verdict: Upheld with Dissent

Publication: null

Ruling Categories: Behaviour of Journalists
Privacy

Overview

[1] On June 2, 2019 the Sunday Star-Times published a feature marking the fifth anniversary of the murder of Aaron Roigard. The story also appeared on Stuff. It featured an interview with a detective associated with the case, Chris Allemann, and his on-going attempts to find Aaron Roigard's body. The story also included an interview with Aaron Roigard's partner Julie Thoms.

The Complaint

[2] Julie Thoms complained that her privacy had been breached by the article. She said she had agreed to an interview with the reporter to raise public awareness in the hope that Aaron's body might be found.

[3] Ms Thoms says she clearly stated she did not want a particular family member mentioned in the article and she says the reporter agreed to this. The Media Council has chosen not to provide details about the family member in order to avoid drawing further attention to the matter Ms Thoms did not want publicised.

[4] When the story was published Ms Thoms was shocked to see the family member referred to in one sentence of the article.After a complaint was lodged, Stuff removed the sentence from the online version.

[5] Ms Thoms said the anniversary of her partner's death was a hard day for her and her children. She had worked hard to regain a private life and the mention of the family member had caused unwanted attention and questions into her private life.

The Response

[6] The editor of the Sunday Star-Times Tracy Watkins replied. The reporter worked out of the Taranaki newsroom, which contributes stories to theSunday Star Times. Ms Watkins had discussed the situation with the reporter's manager and believed it was the result of a genuine misunderstanding.

[7] There was no dispute that the reporter had agreed not to name the person and that they would not feature in any photographs or video. However, the reporter believed that this was the extent of what was agreed and there was no agreement not to mention the person.

[8] Ms Watkins said she did not believe there was a breach of privacy as the matter in question was likely to be common knowledge in the local community.Ms Watkins did accept however that there had been a regrettable misunderstanding and this had caused Ms Thoms distress. This could easily have been avoided with clearer communication from the reporter about what she understood their agreement to mean.

The Decision

[9] The essence of Ms Thoms' complaint was that she was not dealt with fairly by the reporter. The Media Council notes that reporters should be careful in their dealings with the victims of crime, particularly in this case when Ms Thoms' partner had been murdered. The Council is unable to establish exactly what was said, but given the sensitivity of the matter, the reporter should have been much clearer in her communication with Ms Thoms when she raised the matter she did not want aired in public. The situation should have been clarified so that there was no possibility of misunderstanding what was agreed. The complaint is upheld by a majority of Council members.

Tim Watkin and Craig Cooper dissented from this decision and would not have upheld the complaint.

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 andTim Watkin.

Tracy Watkins took no part in the consideration of this complaint.