Lisa Walker alleged that a photograph published in the New Zealand Herald on March 13, 2013 breached Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance), Principle 4 (Comment and Fact), Principle 5 (Headlines and Captions) and Principle 10 (Photographs and Graphics) of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

The photograph appeared twice; as a teaser on the front page, and on page 5 in association with three articles about the drought. The photograph depicts a slaughterman facing a cow and pointing a rifle at the cow.

The complaint was not upheld.

The Complaint
Ms Walker believed that the photograph was “a gratuitous violent photo designed to get a reaction” and would be hard to explain to a child.

She believed that while the newspaper stated they used the photograph to illustrate the impact of the drought on the farming community, it did not in fact relate to the drought as she believed that the cow was destroyed due to a broken hip and it had nothing to do with the drought.

She believed that the “average townee” would have been horrified by the photograph and that it did nothing to help the farming community.

The complainant also believed that the photograph did not fit with the headline “Drought takes its deadly toll”.

The Newspaper’s Response
Newspaper editor Shayne Currie acknowledged that the photograph was without doubt “powerful and shocking to some”.

He said the newspaper had recognised that the photograph could be distressing for some and careful debate took place before the decision was made to use it. The main thrust of the article was to show the impact of the drought on the farming community and the photograph was used for this purpose.

The editor believes that Ms Walker based her complaint on an “erroneous press release distributed by Federated Farmers” regarding the reason for the cow being shot.

The photographer for the newspaper had been told by the farm owner at the scene of the photograph that the cow had injured its hip, and under normal circumstances would be able to be in a confined space and hopefully recover.

The farmer had gone on to state that due to the drought, this was not possible as the herds were having to move longer distances for feed and it was more humane in this instance to put the cow down.

The slaughterman and farmhand also both confirmed that the cow was being put down because of drought-related issues.

The facts were that the destruction of the cow was a direct result of the impact of the drought and there had been no technical manipulation of the photograph.

The newspaper stated that all facts in the article had been checked and verified and that “we rode a careful line – in this case balancing taste with the news value of the image”.

Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance), Principle 4 (Comment and Fact) and Principle 5 (Headlines and Captions), have not been breached as the article contained accurate information and the photograph was used to illustrate the severe impact of the drought on the farming community.

The farmer, farmhand and slaughterman made it clear to the photographer that the cow was shot as a result of the impact of the drought.

Principle 10 (Photographs and Graphics) has not been breached. There was no technical manipulation of the photograph, it was shown as taken.

While the photograph was not a pleasant one, it was a powerful illustration of the reality and impact of the drought on the farming community and was used by the newspaper only after careful consideration.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Clive Lind and Stephen Stewart.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


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