Case Number: 2555

Council Meeting: JANUARY 2017

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Headlines and Captions
Offensive Language
Unfair Coverage


Lynne Edgar (the complainant) complained about the headline of a front page article published inThe Dominion Post on November 10, 2016.

She alleged that the headline was “vulgar, demeaning, rude, immature and offensive” and breached Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance).

The complaint is not upheld.


The headline related to an article covering the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of America.

The headline was “WTF Why Trump Flourished”

The article below covered why the writer thought Mr Trump had won the American Presidential election; a result that created shock around the world.

The Complaint

The complainant alleged that in her opinion, the headline was “vulgar, demeaning, rude, immature and offensive”.

She did not make any complaint about the content of the article itself, only the headline.

She felt the use of “WTF” was offensive given what they would normally imply.

She believed the use of “WTF” breached “accuracy, fairness and balance”.

She felt that the original response from The Dominion Post editor was “quick, flippant and patronising” and felt that her argument that the headline was both offensive and vulgar was still valid.

The complainant disputed the editor’s claim that the term “WTF” is used widely around the world and believed that the use of “WTF” is not okay at all.

The Response

Bernadette Courtney, the editor, replied on behalf of the newspaper.

She stated that a lot of thought and consideration had gone into the headline and while it may have upset some readers it was reflective of the tone of the media around the world and thoughts of readers around the world.

The headline was designed to be provocative and have impact but was accurate and fair with the words (Why Trump Flourished) represented by “WTF” clearly shown below the letters.

The article reflected on how and why Mr Trump became the President elect and the headline accurately reflected the information in the article.

The editor, in her reply to the complainant responded that it was unfortunate that she (the complainant) was disgusted by the headline but noted that the Press Council in many of its findings, has stated that readers don’t have the right not to be offended.

In her response to the Press Council, the editor expressed her regret that the complainant found initial response patronising which was not the editor’s intent.

There were a “handful” of people who complained about the headline to The Dominion Post and some of these were published in the letters section of the newspaper.

The Discussion

This is a complaint about a headline so Principle 5 (Headlines and Captions) must be taken into account.

The headline did accurately and fairly convey the substance and key element of the article so Principle 5 has not been breached.

The article did not seek to mislead nor misinform the reader. It was an overview of why the writer believed Mr Trump had won the American Presidential Election and the surprise voiced around the world therefore Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) was not breached.

While some readers may not have liked the use of “WTF”, there was a full title directly underneath “Why Trump Flourished”.

The editor is correct in noting that the Press Council has expressed in many decisions that readers do not have the right to be not offended and that it is the prerogative of the editor to decide what is printed in their newspaper or publication.

Some Press Council members did express concern at the tone used by the editor when replying to the complainant as they believed it was somewhat dismissive, but the majority did not agree.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Ruth Buddicom, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.


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