Case Number: 2808

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2019

Decision: Upheld with Dissent

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Photographs
Unfair Coverage


1. Linwood Rugby League Rugby Football Club complained about the repeated use of an old file photo to illustrate stories relating to Christchurch City Council move to ban alcohol at league matches.


2. The complaint was received after Stuff / The Press published a story on April 11, 2019 announcing the alcohol ban. A photo which ran with the story was captioned:Alcohol has been banned at 17 parks across Christchurch during rugby league games to stop volatile behaviour (2009 file photo).

3. This was the third use of the same photo in just over five months. It had previously been used on November 2018 and April 3 to illustrate two earlier stories about moves to secure the alcohol ban.

The Complaint

4. Linwood Law, acting for the Linwood Rugby League Football Club, said the club board objected to the photo depicting its supporters drinking alcohol while watching a match to illustrate an article referring to ‘volatile and unsafe sideline behaviour’

5. The central point of the complaint was that Stuff had used the same 2009 file photo for the third time to illustrate articles relating to spectators drinking and behaving in an unruly manner. The club had written to Stuff on previous occasions expressing its concern that the 2009 photo was still being used.

6. The photo showed spectators identifiable as club supporters drinking alcohol. This was unfair as the club had taken a lead in eliminating problematic spectator behaviour and had implemented policies designed to keep alcohol use away from league matches. The club had also been a significant contributor to the eastern suburbs of Christchurch which had been badly affected by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

7. It seemed both unfair and unreasonable to use a 10 year-old photograph to illustrate stories that had no relevance to the club in its current state and many readers may have been misled by the juxtaposition of the photograph with these articles.

8. It seemed irresponsible and unprofessional not to interview relevant people or find a photograph to illustrate the story that accurately represented the current position.

9. It believed that Media Council principle 11, relating to the use of photograph, was applicable.

The Response

10. Kamala Hayman, editor of The Press and Stuff Canterbury, said the picture was clearly labelled in each of the three occasions when it had been used as a file photo from 2009. There could be no confusion in readers’ minds that this was an image from 10 years ago.

11. She added it was heartening to note the club was taking action to resolve problems amongst spectators.

The Discussion

12. Media Council Principle 11 relating to photographs and graphics states: Editors should take care in photographs and image selection and treatment. Any technical manipulation that could mislead readers should be noted and explained.

13. It is hard to sustain an argument that this photo was used in breach of this principle.It showed league supporters drinking on the sideline, which was the subject of the story and the photo was identified as a 2009 file photo to make clear that this was not a recent of current photo.

14. However, we also need to consider the issue of fairness, which is covered by Principle 1. This states in part:Publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission.

15. We can see why the club felt that the use of this photo was unfair. While some of the spectators were holding cans there was no indication that any of these people had misbehaved or had acted in a way that prompted the booze ban. We have not been advised as to how Stuff responded when the club raised its initial concerns, but it clearly chose not to find alternative ways to illustrate subsequent stories.

16. Using the same old file photo to illustrate three different iterations of the same story in such a short time shows little regard was given to the club’s reasonable objection.

17. The photo and caption were not inaccurate or misleading but its repeated use could be regarded as an unfair stigmatisation of the club and its supporters.

18. The complaint is upheld.

Craig Cooper dissented from this decision and would not have upheld this 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, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.


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