LAWRENCE ANISY AGAINST GREYMOUTH STAR

Case Number: 2911

Council Meeting: JUNE 2020

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Greymouth Evening Star

Ruling Categories: Photographs
Privacy

Overview

1. Lawrence Anisy complained that a photograph of pallbearers carrying a coffin in a graveyard breached the privacy of a grieving family.

Background

2. On May 1, 2020 the Greymouth Star published a story on its front page headlinedFuneral measures surprise pallbearer. It detailed how pallbearers had to wear full personal protection equipment under regulations in force during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. It also set out other detailed operational procedures for the conduct of funerals. The story was illustrated with a photograph showing the backs of a line of pallbearers in full personal protective equipment carrying a coffin for burial at a local cemetery. None of the pallbearers was identifiable and the family involved with this funeral was not named. The date of the burial and the name of the cemetery were not stated.

The Complaint

3. Lawrence Anisy of Anisy Funeral Home complained on behalf of a grieving family that the publication had breached the family’s privacy. It was very insensitive. The funeral, which had taken place the day before this photo was published, was private.The family had not given photographic permission and were not aware the photo had been taken or that it would be published. The photo was taken from a long distance with a telephoto lens.

4. He also complained that the editor had not revealed the name of the photographer and that the article did not mention the day and time of the funeral. During the lockdown up to that date there had only been three burials in Greymouth. He added that in this instance eight pallbearers were required to manage the coffin, rather than the usual six.

5.Mr Anisy also asked why the Greymouth Star had not been “upfront” and asked permission as it had done on previous occasions.

The Response

6. Greymouth Star editor Paul Madgwick said publication was a matter of public interest. The photo was published to show the public the extraordinary and unprecedented measures that were being taken with pallbearers dressed in protective suits, gloves and goggles. These were scenes that had not been seen in New Zealand previously and the public were fully entitled to see what was happening in their local community, in a respectful way that took care to not identify who or where.

7. While he respected the fact the funeral was private the cemetery was a public amenity. The photo was supplied by a member of the public and the paper had no obligation to disclose its source.

8. The photo was also closely cropped to avoid any identification. In fact it was so hard to identify he had thought the burial had been at the Karoro Lawn Cemetery, only to find out later from Mr Anisy that it was at the Gladstone Memorial Cemetery.

9. The funeral may have been private, but the burial was in a public cemetery and it appeared the photo was taken from a public road within that public space.

10. He also noted the family had not contacted the paper to question the publication or complain and suggested whether Mr Anisy had drawn it to their attention and therefore made his concerns theirs.

The Decision

11. Media Council Principle 2 states that everyone is normally entitled to privacy of person, space and personal information, and these rights should be respected by publications. Nevertheless the right to privacy should not interfere with publication of significant matters of public record or public interest. It adds that those suffering from trauma or grief call for special consideration.

12. The Media Council sympathises with the bereaved family and acknowledges their grief and stress at this time.

13. It notes the newspaper showed them consideration and went to some lengths to respect their privacy.

14. The photo was taken from a public space and showed what was happening in a public space. It did not name the deceased or provide information that could have identified that person by giving the day and location of the burial. The photo was also selected, cropped and printed small to fill just one column. It was effectively a vignette, showing nothing but the backs of four pallbearers wearing protective clothing on one side of the coffin and one other person following them. None were readily identifiable or named. Few readers would have noted or made observations from the fact the coffin was being carried by eight rather than the more usual six pallbearers.

15. The photo nevertheless conveyed key elements of the extraordinary measures taken and the additional anguish faced by the bereaved when many funereal traditions were set aside in the interests of public health as a pandemic threatened the country.

16. Showing a notable scene of a funeral carried out in these circumstances was a significant matter of public interest. TheGreymouth Star showed special consideration to the bereaved in the way it handled this story and photograph.

17. The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon. Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Pravina Singh, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.