MARY DUFF AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 3427
Council Meeting: 25 September 2023
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Children and Young People
Headlines and Captions
Photographs and Graphics
Taste Lack of
Tragedies, Offensive Handling of
- Stuff has given extensive coverage to the trial of Lauren Dickason who is charged with murdering her three young daughters.
- Citing a story published on August 2, 2023, headlined Live: Crown forensic psychiatrist cross-examined by defence in Dickason trial Mary Duff said she was deeply disturbed by excessive media coverage.
- She said Mrs Dickason’s mental health and the death of her three children were extremely sad matters in which the family deserved privacy. Surely there was more appropriate news to be reported.
- “The fact that the extended family doesn’t live in this country is not an excuse to splash their nightmare across our newspapers. Myself and others I have spoken to are greatly disappointed at the obscure focus this case is getting compared to other murder trails. The decision to publish highly personal details of this unfortunate family is bewildering.”
- Stuff responded saying it agreed this was an extremely upsetting court case and that many of the details were distressing. “However, Stuff is a news website, and it is our journalists’ duty to inform people about what is happening in their communities.”
- It disagreed there was more appropriate news to report, saying this was an incredibly important case.
- If the jury found the children were murdered this would underscore the depravity of one of the worst such cases in New Zealand history. If the jury decided the defendant was so unwell that she did not commit murder but infanticide, then it pointed to the shocking power that postpartum depression or psychosis could have over mothers. Either way readers should have the right to know the details of what Lauren Dickason was being judged on.
- Stuff said that while it did not cover every trial in this level of detail, it was not unprecedented. The David Bain and Mark Lundy trials were cited as examples of that.
- The Media Council understands that people may be distressed by the depth and detail of the reporting of this case.
- However, this is a case of significant public interest. The extent of coverage given to any major news event is a matter of editorial discretion. In cases where readers may be disturbed by the reportage it is always an editor’s responsibility to exercise discretion as to what details they publish. It is over to them to weigh the public interest against the risk that readers may be offended or upset by the information conveyed.
- Those calls of editorial judgment cannot be second-guessed by the Media Council which has always held that editors have the ultimate responsible for what appears in their publications and for adhering to standards of ethical journalism.
- Those standards, set out in the Principles which the Media Council uses when it considers its rulings, were cited in this complaint. They refer, in particular, to accuracy, fairness and balance, privacy, confidentiality, headlines, captions and photographs.
- No case has been made to show how any of those Principles were breached.
- The Council said it is up to individuals to decide what they wish to read. If they do not wish to be upset by a report about a tragic event, they can always skip it. Editors should not have to make that decision for them by omitting to publish a newsworthy but upsetting story.
- Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed