Case Number: 3458

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2023

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance

Ruling Categories: Children and Young People

The Press published an article on August 29, 2023, headlined Church ‘two-faced’ for lack of financial help.

The story was about a man who had suffered sexual abuse by the Brothers of St John of God criticising the Catholic Church for publicly offering help to survivors and then turning down his request for financial aid to attend an international summit for sexual abuse survivors.

Ken Orr complained that it was slanderous to say the church was two-faced and it was unfair for The Press to give credence to his claims. He asked why The Press had given the man a platform to attack the church when he gave evidence to the Royal Commission on Abuse in State Care that it was his intention “to destroy the Catholic Church.”

The slander was offensive to every member of the Catholic Church in New Zealand, and it was unfair to attack the church for its lack of charity when the church provided substantial assistance with food and clothing to vulnerable families.

Mr Orr said the man had been given generous financial help and the article was inaccurate when it reported the man was six years of age when he was placed at Marylands School, when he gave evidence to the Royal Commission that he was seven years of age on entering Marylands.

The article also lacked balance as it failed to reveal the sexual abuse the man suffered at other institutions.

The Press said in its response that comment that the church was two-faced was the man’s honestly held view. It accepted there appeared to be conflicting information about the age when the man first attended Marylands. However, the article did not go into detail on the alleged abuse.

It was primarily about the man’s criticism of the church for not funding his travel to the international summit. The church was given the opportunity to respond and did so. It explained it had made earlier payments to the man and had helped fund a similar trip to an earlier survivors’ summit. These comments were included in the article.

The Media Council is not a Court of Law and cannot consider libel claims.

Beyond that the Media Council does not believe the article breached journalistic standard, particularly Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance.

The Council accepts The Press’ point that it was reporting the man’s honestly held view. He said the church was two-faced and he was entitled to hold that opinion.

Mr Orr has not shown how the story was demonstrably inaccurate, unfair, or unbalanced. Whether the man was six or seven when he entered Marylands School was not really material. The story reported his experience and that he had received compensation, although not in the detail Mr Orr reported, or that the man was abused in other institutions. The story was balanced by reporting of the church’s response to the man’s complaint.

Decision: There are insufficient grounds to proceed.


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