MARY WILTON AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2815

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2019

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Comment and Fact
Photographs
Privacy
Unfair Coverage

Overview

[1] On 17 June 2019 Stuff published a story about raids on properties associated with the Comanchero Motorcycle Club. It stated that items had been seized and other assets had been frozen, including two residential properties.

The Complaint

[2] Mary Wilton complained that the story was accompanied by a photograph of her home, with her street number clearly visible. The property that was raided shares the same driveway, but is behind her home and could not be seen clearly from the street, she said. The story stated one of the homes raided was in Bucklands Beach and, as her home was distinctive, it had been identified as being seized by the police and as the frozen asset of a gang. People had asked her if this was the case. Mrs Wilton said she was 79, not in good health, and that the use of the photograph had been upsetting. She felt her reputation had been damaged.

Principles relating to Accuracy Fairness and Balance; Comment and Fact, Privacy and Photographs were cited.

The Response

[3] Stuff replied that the story mentioned that raids took place in Bucklands Beach and Lynfield, but did not give specific locations or details of addresses. The photograph Mrs Wilton complained about shows a house at the end of a driveway with an unmarked police car outside. Mrs Wilton’s house was on the right-hand side of the photograph. The picture was captioned: “An unmarked police car at a property in east Auckland being searched in connection with raids on the Comanchero gang.” Stuff said the caption made it clear the property raided was the home at the end of the driveway. Mrs Wilton’s home was not the main focus of the image and was only partially visible on the right-hand side.

[4] Stuff argued that the house would only be recognisable to people who knew Mrs Wilton, and those people would know she was not a member of the gang. The publication of the photograph was reasonable to record justice being carried out against a violent gang. Stuff had removed the photograph after Mrs Wilton’s complaint “as a gesture of goodwill”. Mrs Wilton had requested the publication of a correction but Stuff deemed this unnecessary for a number of reasons including that the story no longer included the photograph.

The Decision

[5] The Council declines to uphold the complaint under the principles cited.

Principle 1 – Accuracy Fairness and Balance

There was, strictly speaking, no inaccuracy, as the property raided was in the photograph. However, Mrs Wilton’s home was prominent in the photograph, both houses had cars parked in their driveways and it was difficult to know which home was being raided. The Media Council considered the use of the photograph was careless and the caption could have been worded more accurately to make it immediately obvious which home was being raided. It would have been inclined to uphold the complaint if the photograph had not been removed so swiftly.

Principle Two – Privacy

Mrs Wilton’s privacy was not breached, as the Council agrees with Stuff that only people who knew Mrs Wilton would recognise the front house as hers, and they would be unlikely to think she was associated with a motorcycle gang. Stuff also acted appropriately by removing the photograph promptly in response to Mrs Wilton’s distress. The Media Council agrees that publishing a correction was unnecessary after the photograph had been removed.

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.