MICHAEL DEE AGAINST NZ LISTENERMichael Dee (the complainant) complained about an opinion piece published in the NZ Listener on May16, 2015.
The complainant alleged that the article breached Principles 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) and 7 (Discrimination and Diversity) of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.
The complaint is not upheld, with two Council members dissenting.
The opinion piece covered types of behaviour that the writer considered odd and annoying. It also included comments on “Ponytailgate”, where a young waitress had her ponytail “pulled” by the Prime Minister.
It also outlined reported reasons why the young woman may have felt she was unable to stop her ponytail being touched.
It concluded with the comments that “Hopefully this whole sorry saga will give all women the courage to say “Stop!”.”
The complainant alleged that the opinion piece was a “deliberate misrepresentation of the facts in stating that the young woman failed to protest loudly and repeatedly” and was a breach of Principle 1.
The complainant also felt that the opinion piece expressed a patronising, discredited and dangerous viewpoint that women are failing in a supposed responsibility for controlling the persistent and unwelcome attentions of men and that this was in breach of Principle 7.
The Magazine’s Response
In reply to the complaint, the editor said the article coverage of “Ponytailgate” was accurate, fair and balanced and represented the views of the young woman.
The fact that the young woman did eventually ask the Prime Minister to cease pulling her ponytail did not change the fact that she initially (and for some time) felt uncomfortable asking him to stop. Quotes from the young woman’s own blog were provided to the Press Council.
The statement in the opinion piece “The point is simple: if anyone does anything that annoys or discomfits you, then you should tell them to cease and desist. If necessary, tell them repeatedly and loudly. The saddest thing in this whole saga is that the woman concerned felt she couldn’t do that” is accurate and not misleading in any way.
The opinion piece clearly states that no person should have to put up with behaviour that discomfits them and they should be able to tell another person to immediately stop that behaviour.
She went on to state that the article was not a news report, it was an opinion piece and clearly labelled as such.
Discussion and Decision
The opinion piece covered a number of types of behaviour that the writer considered odd and annoying along with comments on “Ponytailgate”.
The content clearly expressed an opinion that people should not have to put up with behaviour from others that was discomfiting or annoying and everyone had the right to tell others to stop such behaviour.
It discussed some of the reasons why the young woman may have felt unable to immediately ask that her ponytail not be touched and expressed sympathy that she had felt that way.
It concluded with the statement that “Hopefully this whole sorry saga will give all women the courage to say “Stop!”.”
Reading the opinion piece in its totality, the Press Council could not find evidence that supported the complainant’s view that it breached either Principles 1 or 6.
The opinion piece supported the view that no person should have to put up with behaviour that discomfited or annoyed them, that they had the right to say stop and that the person perpetrating the behaviour should stop immediately.
As noted in Press Council decision 2380, in May 2014, opinions by their very nature may be arguable. They may be robustly expressed and even on occasion offensive or unacceptable to some readers without breaching the standards to be expected of a reputable media outlet.
The Press Council noted that it could have included the facts that the young woman did in fact request that the behaviour cease but was ignored by John Key, that she then attempted to avoid the behaviour by asking other staff to serve him in her place but he still sought her out and also that she approached his security detail for assistance in stopping the behaviour.
By not including this detail, it was possible that readers might have made an assumption that the young woman had not made any attempt to get John Key to cease the inappropriate behaviour when in fact she had made several unsuccessful attempts from the time the inappropriate behaviour commenced.
But the opinion piece was very clear that no person should ever have to put up with offensive or unacceptable behaviour and had the right to tell a person to stop, therefore the majority of the Press Council did not uphold the complaint.
The complaint is not upheld.
Dissent: Stephen Stewart and John Roughan would have upheld the complaint on the question of the column's factual accuracy in its contention that the waitress had not made her objection clear at an early stage.
Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.