KIRSTEN WYLIE AGAINST THE PRESS
Case Number: 3390
Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2023
Decision: Not Upheld
Publication: The Press
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
Photographs and Graphics
- On December 10, 2022, Stuff published an article titled Neighbours stoush leads to allegations of council discrimination. Ms Kirsten Wylie complains of breaches of Principles (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, (4) Comment and Fact, (6) Headlines and Captions and (11) Photographs and Graphics. The complaint is not upheld.
- A noose in the garage, armed police on the doorsteps and allegations of council discrimination – it’s the neighbour stoush with no resolution in sight is the sub-heading of this Stuff article which describes an on-going dispute between Ms Wylie and Mr Craig Hemopo who share a boundary, living on lifestyle properties on the outskirts of Christchurch.
- The article begins with a description of an incident between Ms Wylie, the complainant, and an employee of Mr Hemopo’s who was doing work on Mr Hemopo’s property. Armed police arrived at the property and surrounded the employee after Ms Wylie had called them alleging, she had been threatened by the employee, identified as Fetu in the article. She reported that he said, “stop f…ing photographing my vehicle” and that “I can jump the fence and get you before the police get here.” Ms Wiles acknowledges she had been photographing the work being done which included the workman. Fetu was annoyed with this, feeling that his privacy was being invaded. The article states that Fetu was served a trespass notice and Ms Wylie was served an order prohibiting her from photographing Fetu.
- The article states that the armed call out was the last straw for Mr Hemopo after his neighbour, Ms Wylie, had repeatedly complained to the Christchurch City Council (the council) resulting in Mr Hemopo being issued with an abatement notice for three breaches of the district plan.
- Ms Wylie says she simply wants the council to stop Mr Hemopo doing what she claims is illegal work.
- Background is then provided, out-lining how when he purchased the property Mr Hemopo and his wife planned to give the property a facelift, particularly pruning and clearing overgrown trees. Mr Hemopo says that he checked with the council and got approval that their plans met the requirements of the district plan.
- On beginning to clear trees along the side of the boundary he shared with Ms Wylie, Mr Hemopo says that she came flying out and told him he couldn’t cut the trees down. He alleges she said, “it’s because of people like you that brings the neighbourhood down”, which he believed referred to him being Māori. He also alleges that she accused him of wanting to see in her bedroom and called him a pervert.
- In the article Ms Wylie denies that version of events and making any racist comments and said that “I have clients who are Māori. I don’t have a problem with them at all.” Ms Wylie says that the area being cleared was “quite beautiful” and is now a “f…ing eyesore”.
- After that altercation the Hemopo whanau went away returning to find a noose hanging in their garage. While Ms Wylie denied having anything to do with the noose she is quoted saying “Would you be happy… having that on your doorstep, not to mention the noise and the people … it’s the people that come here, as well as the person who threatened me.”
- Mr Hemopo was alerted to complaints Ms Wylie was making to the council adding that she would hide in the bushes taking photographs of the work he was doing at the front of his property. Ms Wylie does not dispute this or that she was documenting the work.
- The council refuses to provide Stuff with the number of complaints Ms Wylie has made on the basis that the file is still open. Stuff is appealing that decision with the Chief Ombudsman.
- Ms Wylie made a number of complaints to the council about earthworks on Mr Hemopo’s property, portable buildings he had moved on and unconsented vehicle access. Two of these matters resulted in Mr Hemopo being issued with $750 fines and abatement notices.
- There was a further complaint that Mr Hemopo had put a shipping container in a stream that runs through both properties. The council investigated but found no evidence that Mr Hemopo had dammed the stream. Ms Wylie said she did not make the complaint but does claim that Mr Hemopo has tampered with the stream.
- Mr Hemopo has refused to pay any of the fines, alleging that that he has been the victim of discrimination. Mr Hemopo alleges a breach of his privacy after being advised by Ms Wylie that he would be served an abatement notice before getting notice from the council.
- The article reports two further complaints to council, one from Mr Hemopo that Ms Wylie had cut down trees by the shared stream and the second, from Ms Wylie that Mr Hemopo was using his neighbour’s property as a trucking yard.
- The article concludes that the “war” continues to escalate with no resolution in sight and that both parties agree that the fault lies with the council in the way they have managed the situation.
- Ms Wylie has been upset by the situation with her neighbour and says that the article has added to this, causing distress. She says that it has put a slur on her name and is humiliating.
- Ms Wylie makes several complaints of inaccuracies in the article under Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance:
a.In relation to the incident where the police were called Ms Wylie refutes that they were armed as described.
b. She says that she was not served with an order prohibiting her from photographing Fetu.
c. And that Mr Hemopo was not at home at the time of the incident as was reported.
d. Ms Wylie denies that she “came flying out’ to speak to Mr Hemopo and that her complaints are race-based as she believes has been inferred in the article.
e. Ms Wylie complains that it was inferred in the article that she was involved in the placement of a noose on the Hemopo property which she denies saying she has never set foot on Mr Hemopo’s property.
f. The Media Council notes Ms Wylie’s comments that she has been labelled a recidivist complainer when “the council clearly show that this has been considered as ONE complaint.”
g. Related to the principle of Accuracy, Ms Wylie considers that the journalist chose to misrepresent what was discussed and could not accurately make quotes as “she was not taking notes”. Later in the complaint when Ms Wylie was advised that the journalist had recorded the interview Ms Wylie complained that this was dishonest and references the Privacy Act to underline her objection to being recorded.
- Ms Wylie complains that Mr Hemopo’s comments are reported as facts rather than quoted as she is, suggesting a breach of Principle (4) Comment and Fact.
- Ms Wylie complains that nothing in the article explains how Mr Hemopo is being discriminated against as is suggested in the headline, breaching Principle (6) Headlines and Captions.
- Ms Wylie complains that photos she has supplied to the council have been published in the article without her consent. She adds that the photo published of her speaking with the journalist was taken without her consent, breaching Principle (11) Photographs and Graphics.
- In a latter part of the complaint Ms Wylie states that the journalist has not adhered to the Journalist Code of Ethics and reframes her complaints against those standards. The Media Council can only consider complaints against the Council’s 12 principles.
- In her complaint Ms Wylie twice mentions that she was subject to “a gang related home invasion and burglary” and the traumatic effect this had had on her. She does complain that the journalist failed to include this in the article, to explain her fear of, and reaction to threats of violence.
- Stuff responds to the complaints of inaccuracies as follows:
a. In response to the complaint about armed police Stuff say that two separate witnesses described the police as armed. Stuff was unable to determine for sure that they were armed so removed reference to this in the article.
b. Stuff says that the matter of whether Ms Wiles was issued with an order prohibiting photography is in dispute. When asked in an email if she denied having been told by police to stop photographing Fetu, Ms Wiles did not respond.
c. Mr Hemopo advised Stuff that he was at home at the time of the incident, opposing Ms Wylie’s claim that he wasn’t. Stuff maintains their original assertion.
d. Stuff rejects that there was any inference Ms Wylie was responsible for the noose found on Mr Hemopo’s property, saying “The noose, however, was an important part of a broader picture showing the challenges Mr Hemopo has faced since moving to the property.” They say they were careful not to infer who was responsible.
e. Stuff stands by the quotes by Mr Hemopo about Ms Wylie ‘flying out” and the suggestion that she was abusive or racist, with the article outlining her response to Mr Hemopo’s version of events.
f. In response to Mr Hemopo’s description of Ms Wylie being a recidivist offender Stuff says that Ms Wylie agrees that she has contacted the council multiple times over Mr Hemopo’s non-consented activity and do not accept her position that these relate to a single complaint. Additionally, they are informed by the council that there are at least 4 unrelated complaints made by Ms Wylie. Stuff view “recidivist complainer’ as a fair description of Ms Wylie.
g. The Stuff reporter taped the discussion with Ms Wylie with Stuff saying that this is for accuracy and is common practice.
- Stuff is confident that all comments in the article, including those of Mr Hemopo, are distinctly identified as such, clearly distinguishing them from statements of fact.
- Stuff is sure that the heading is a fair representation of the article.
- Stuff believe that there is no breach in the publication of photos in the article, saying that Ms Wylie should contact the council with any concerns over photos they released to Stuff, and they are comfortable with their photographer taking the photos he did of Ms Wylie.
- The Editor of Stuff says that the details of a home invasion and burglary raised by Ms Wylie in her complaint were not mentioned to the reporter.
- This complaint is complicated by the nature of the unresolved dispute between two neighbours, one of whom is the complainant.
- Alleged inaccuracies form the larger part of this complaint, citing Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and are addressed as follows. The Media Council welcomes that response and adds that this editing could have been noted at the end of the story.
- Stuff published that the police attending an incident at Mr Hemopo’s property were armed. They accept that they were unable to provide certainty of this and withdrew that description following Ms Wyle’s assertion that they were not armed.
- The Media Council accepts that there remains some dissension over whether Ms Wylie was served an order by the police prohibiting her from photographing Fetu as stated in the article. Given that in her complaint Wylie has now very clearly denied she has been served a prohibition order and that Stuff was rightly willing to remove the claim the police were armed when it couldn’t be proven, Stuff may also care to remove that disputed claim from the article.
- The Council agrees that Mr Hemopo was likely home at the time of the incident as he said. All statements made by Mr Hemopo about Ms Wylie’s behaviour and comment on her complaints being race-based are clearly marked as his opinion and in each case Ms Wylie has been given a right of reply and claims about Mr Hemopo’s bad behaviour and offences are also reported.
- It is understandable that Ms Wylie is sensitive to any inference that she might have been associated with the noose found on the Hemopo’s property. The Council is satisfied that caution was exercised in the wording of the matter so as not to apportion responsibility for the noose and accept that there was some validity for this being included in the story. A clear statement was made by Ms Wylie saying that she had nothing to do with the matter and that she had never set foot on Mr Hemopo’s property.
- While Ms Wylie objects to being labelled a “recidivist complainer” she acknowledges contacting the council a number of times over separate issues about the works on Mr Hemopo’s property. She says that these have been categorised as one complaint by the council and therefore she is not a recidivist complainer. While there is some dispute over the number of unrelated complaints Ms Wylie has additionally made to the council there does appear to be some. Stuff’s view is that the complaints against Mr Hemopo and other complaints qualify Ms Wyle as a multiple complainer and the Media Council agrees. However, the Council acknowledges the right of citizens to complain to councils and regards the term recidivist in this setting as inappropriately disapproving and rather harsh.
- The Council finds that all of Mr Hemopo’s comments are clearly identified as such and therefore distinguished from being statements of fact and so finds no breach of Principle (4) Comments and Facts.
- There are a number of references in the article to claims by Mr Hemopo that the council is being discriminatory as is noted in the headline. This addresses Principle (6) Headlines, sub-headings, and captions should accurately and fairly convey the substance or a key element of the report they are designed to cover.
- There is clearly content in the article that supports the heading, so no breach was found regarding Principle (6) Headlines and Captions.
- It is acceptable practice for Stuff to publish the photo of Ms Wylie talking to the journalist as it was taken in a public place and to publish any photos supplied by the council. So, while there is no breach of Principle (11), the Council is perplexed as to why Stuff did not ask Ms Wylie’s permission to take her photo as it appears they did with Mr Hemopo. That would have been fairer. Shooting it through the bushes would have given some readers the impression Ms Wylie had something to hide.
- In regard to Ms Wylie’s complaint that the recording of her interview without her knowledge was a breach of the Privacy Act, in fact the Privacy Act states that “News media (in relation to their news gathering and news reporting functions) are exempt of the Privacy Act regulations.
- While the Council has concern for Ms Wylie over her experience of a home invasion and burglary, they accept that Stuff did not know about this and if they had known, had editorial discretion over including it in the article.
Decision: The complaint is not upheld on Principles (1), (4), (6) and (11).
Council members considering the complaint were the Hon. Raynor Asher (chair); Rosemary Barraclough; Tim Watkin, Scott Inglis, Hank Schouten, Ben Frances, Jo Cribb, Marie Shroff, Alison Thom and Richard Pamatatau.