MARTHINUS BEKKER AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 3256
Council Meeting: MAY 2022
Balance, Lack Of
Defamation/Damaging To Reputation
1. Dr Marthinus Bekker complains about a video placed with an April 20, 2022 Stuff story headlined ‘Man takes his
life in North Shore Hospital after several checks were missed’.
2. The story is based on a coroner’s report which found that the treatment of a mental health patient in North Shore Hospital was flawed.
3. The mental health patient took his life, after he was not checked on appropriately, the coroner found.
4. Dr Bekker – a clinical psychologist – is not quoted or named in the April 20 story. However, he features in a video placed within the article online. The video has nothing to do with the story, other than it and the story are both about mental health issues.
5. Dr Bekker says the video contains previously unpublished footage of him recorded in October 2021, when he took part in a Stuff series about waiting times for mental health treatment.
6. Dr Bekker complains that the video footage was recorded for a different purpose, for another article. He objects to the use of the footage alongside an article he had no involvement in.
7. Dr Bekker says he would not have commented on the coroner’s report, had he been asked. ‘’The individual focussed nature of the event with colleagues I know well involved, potentially jeopardises my reputation, relationships and job prospects.’’
8. ‘’I feel that I contributed to the original story openly as an expert in the field and then I had that contribution abused in a manner that potentially jeopardises me.’’
9. Dr Bekker says it was insulting and concerning that Stuff refused to take the video down. ‘It was only after I insisted that they remove the linked video’
10. Dr Bekker wants Stuff to change their ‘’process about using’archived footage obtained for other purposes’’. He also seeks an apology
from Stuff, and wants to ensure ‘this kind of thing doesn’t happen again’’.
11. Simon Plumb, the acting Auckland Editor for Stuff, says Stuff declined to remove the video as it was accurately and fairly used, and its title and description clearly distinguished it from the reporting.
12. Stuff rejected Dr Bekker’s argument that the video inferred he was offering comment on the April 20 coroner story.
13. The video was clearly titled to be about the broader, more general issue of mental health waiting times in the public health system.
14. It had no mention of “suicide” or “North Shore Hospital” in the title which stated “Dr Marthinus Bekker on wait times in the public mental health system’’.
15. Stuff also maintains it is entitled, where appropriate, to use videos in stories other than the single, specific stories they are shot for.
16. Stuff rejects Dr Bekker’s claims that the inclusion of the video had “implications for relationships and job opportunities” and “potentially jeopardises my reputation’’.
17. Dr Bekker provided no evidence in support of these claims, but the claims did indicate Dr Bekker’s level of distress, Mr Plumb says.
18. Dr Bekker emailed complaints to other Stuff email addresses in an attempt to have the video removed, stated the situation “seriously undermines the trust I had” with the reporter involved and suggested the situation “seriously puts me off” from dealing with the reporter again.
19. Stuff decided to remove the video on compassionate grounds to Dr Bekker, and out of consideration for the Stuff reporter involved in the video.
20. “This was clearly explained to Dr Bekker and the video was removed, less than 24 hours after being published. Dr Bekker did not respond to the email informing him of the removal.”
21. “Stuff agreed to remove the video on the basis of goodwill, rather than obligation or wrongdoing, in order to reach a swift resolution. That is in line with the principles of the Media Council, Mr Plumb says.
22. Stuff rejects Dr Bekker’s claim that the initial decision to retain the video after he complained “is even more insulting and concerning”.
23. ‘‘Dr Bekker’s request for a private apology is declined on the grounds Stuff did not breach any of his rights in the first place, or, any principles of the Media Council,’’ Mr Plumb says.
24. He also added that “despite that, the video has already been removed anyway - swiftly and out of compassion for Dr Bekker.’’
25. There is no question that Stuff was entitled to publish video footage taken in October 2021 alongside the April 20, 2022 story. It did not require Dr Bekker’s permission
26. Repurposing stories or video is a standard practice to encourage reader engagement on news websites.
27. There is also no issue with the practice of placing hyperlinks to video or stories in unrelated content, as long as the reader is not misled.
28. The question, in this case, is whether the video misleadingly suggests Dr Bekker was commenting on the April 20, 2022 story.
29. Based on the screenshot supplied as part of this complaint, Dr Bekker’s video and image is located directly beneath the lead or dominant headline ‘Man takes his life in North Shore Hospital after several checks missed’.
30. This layout replicates the print media convention of placing an image adjacent to a headline, that relates to the headline and story.
31. For this reason, at first glance, many readers will associate Dr Bekker’s image with the suicide story, without reading the video headline and caption.
32. Stuff says the video was ‘clearly titled to be about the broader, more general issue of mental health waiting times in the public health system’.
33. The video headline states ‘Dr Marthinus Bekker on wait times in the public mental health system’, in much smaller font than the
story headline ‘Man takes his life ...’
34. Beneath the video caption is the story introduction that begins “A mental health patient ...." While Stuff argues that the text printed on the video makes it clear that Dr Bekker is not part of the suicide story, the Media Council rejects this argument.
35. The video text is sufficiently vague for readers to assume that Dr Bekker is commenting on the suicide story as it uses the term ‘mental health’ – a term that is repeated in the story introduction directly below the video.
36. There is no issue with Stuff’s entitlement to publish the video, however, the Media Council’s focus is a reader’s interpretation of the presentation of the video and story together.
37. The Media Council’s view is that the lack ofclarity in the video caption, the prominent placement of the video between the story headline and the story introduction, and the use of the term ‘mental health’ in the story introduction and video caption is misleading.
38. Dr Bekker has not referenced any breach of Media Council principles in his complaint. However, the Media Council finds Stuff was in breach of Principle One – Accuracy, Fairness and Balance.
39. The complaint is upheld because the way the video was displayed was unfair to Dr Bekker. It was also inaccurate in that it could mislead readers to think he was involved in the story.
40. The Media Council suggests that if Stuff places video or hyperlinks that are not directly related to a story, as in this instance, that it ensures it is clear the video has nothing to do with the story.
41. While Stuff removed the video, it also made it clear to Dr Bekker that it didn’t have to, but it intimated it was doing Dr Bekker a favour on compassionate grounds by doing so.
42. This was after Stuff arguably showed little compassion toward Dr Bekker, in telling him that Stuff rejected his statement that he felt it was ‘insulting and concerning’ that they wouldn’t take the video down.
43. These contradictory stances that Stuff took lessen any mitigation from the removal of the video.
44. In the Media Council’s view, the request that Dr Bekker made was reasonable. Stuff’s response and its argument as to why it shouldn’t take the video down was not.
45. Dr Bekker also requested an apology. The Media Council suggests Stuff contemplate whether in hindsight, it owes Dr Bekker an apology.
Decision: The complaint is upheld.
Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Craig Cooper, Ben France-Hudson, Richard Pamatatau, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Alison Thom, Reina Vaai and Tim Watkin.