LES HEADS AGAINST THE WAIHI GAZETTEThe New Zealand Press Council has rejected a complaint made by a lawyer acting for Mr Les Heads of Waihi which concerned a photograph and article which appeared in the Waihi Gazette on 2 July. The front-page story was an account of the annual Waihi Beach Polar Plunge; it had the headline “A Whale of a Time!” It was accompanied by a photograph of two men walking out of the water, one of whom was identified in the caption as Les Heads.
Mr Heads’s lawyer complained to the Waihi Gazette on 16 July that the close association of the headline and photograph implied Mr Heads was a “whale” thus drawing attention to his build and exposing him to ridicule. Mr Heads was concerned for his reputation and for that of his employer Coeur Gold whose name appeared on the T-shirt he was wearing in the photograph. The lawyer asked for redress but stressed that no more unwarranted publicity should occur. In reply the paper’s lawyer denied there was anything in the headline, story or photograph which was inappropriate and said the paper would take no action. Mr Heads was, however, invited to express his views in a letter to the editor for publication.
Mr Heads’s lawyer repeated the complaint to the Press Council claiming the placement of photo and headline “was in extremely bad taste.” She said Mr Heads did not consent to the taking of the photograph nor did he know he would be “singled out for ridicule.” He had been the subject of numerous jokes about his build since the photograph had appeared. The lawyer regretted that the paper had been unwilling to offer an apology and pointed out that a letter to the editor would only create further publicity; she considered the paper’s response was dismissive and did not recognise Mr Heads’s humiliation. A further letter asked that the offending photograph not be printed in any adjudication and made it clear that Mr Heads was seeking an apology.
The editor of the Waihi Gazette defended the headline as appropriate to the event in its light-heartedness and maritime overtones; she also said the photo was selected as a good character shot with news appeal because the men were chatting at ease rather than rushing out of ice-cold water. Mr Heads was told by the photographer that his picture had been taken and when requested had given his name. The paper could not publish an apology without causing further publicity, she said, and she regretted any humiliation Mr Heads had suffered. But she did not consider anything inappropriate had been published or that she should apologise for the selection of the photograph.
The Press Council dismissed the complaint. They considered the headline was appropriate to the story and that there was no evidence it was intended to ridicule either of the men in the picture. The story, headline and photo referred to a light-hearted ephemeral event and were presented in the same spirit. While any connections made by readers between the headline and the men in the photograph were unfortunate, the Press Council did not believe they constituted grounds for upholding the complaint.