MIKE FERRISS AGAINST CENTRAL LEADER

Case Number: 3008

Council Meeting: MARCH 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Central Leader

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Headlines and Captions
Photographs

Overview

On February 4, 2021, the Central Leader’s front page included an article titledLantern Festival – ‘risk to lives’. The article provided examples of how traffic and event management barriers at the 2019 Lantern festival (held in Auckland Domain) prevented medical staff and visiting families accessing nearby Auckland hospitals. The article then went on to discuss the options the organisers of the Lantern Festival have explored to move the venue and how, in 2021, it was planned to be held on Auckland’s waterfront.

The Complaint

Mike Ferriss complains that the title of the article does not reflect the content of the article. He states that it was the traffic volume and traffic management that posed a risk not the Lantern Festival itself.

He states that the bold headline and prominence of the photograph on the front page of the Leader gives a misleading representation of the festival.

He notes that the on-line version headline was more accurate: Auckland Lantern Festival: Domain venue an ‘unacceptable risk’ to hospital.

In comparison, he states that no one would expect to see a headline Christmas in the Park – ‘risk to lives’.

He concludes his comment by observing that the Central Leader is part of the Stuff media group who recently apologized for their history of racist articles concerning Māori. He thinks the headline of this article is ‘a bit racist’ particularly noting that the headline occurred in the current climate of Covid 19 where China was central to its outbreak and such a negative headline about a Chinese festival is problematic.

The Response

David Gadd replies on behalf on the Central Leader. He notes that Ferriss complains under two Media Council principles: Principle 6 Headlines and Captions and Principle 11 Photographs and Graphics.

Principle 6 states that headlines, sub-headings and captions should accurately and fairly convey the substance or key element of the report they cover. Mr Gadd responds that the headline does capture the most salient aspects of the story including naming the Festival involved and claims made in the article that lives were at risk because of the Festival. The argument that the complainant makes about the traffic and its management, he states, is not valid because the Festival is not distinct from the people who attend. The festival and the crowds it attracts are intrinsically linked.

He goes on to state that a fuller headline in the print copy could have included reference to the traffic issues as being the specific cause of concern (as in the on-line version) but was truncated due to space constraints.

Principle 11 Photographs and Graphics states that editors should take care in photographic and image selection and treatment: technical manipulation and distressing situations should be avoided. As the story is about the Lantern Festival, Mr Gadd states that it is appropriate and is not ‘’gratuitous, shocking or misrepresenting any part of the story’’.

Mr Gadd responds to the accusation that the story could be seen ‘’as a bit racist’’ by stating that the Festival is not limited to any particular ethnic identity. While the Lunar New Year is marked by the Chinese community with lanterns, many other Asian nations also celebrate in a similar way.He also states that the lanterns on display come from a wide range of contributors and the event is a civic one, co-hosted by a council organisation. The festival is also known for its food and entertainment, both of which come from a wide variety of ethnicities. He concludes by stating that the story is about the management of an important civic festival that is widely attended and clearly not an attack on any ethnic group.

Mr Gadd offered, as remedy, to publish the original letter of complaint from Mr Ferriss. This will allow Ferris to share his view with readers.

Mr Ferriss has declined the offer of a letter to the editor.

The Decision

The Media Council agrees with the Central Leader. The headline was appropriate and contained the salient point of the article, acknowledging the space constraint of the front page. The photograph accompanying the article, likewise, is appropriate for the article. There is no breach of these Media Council’s principles.

Regarding whether the article was racist, the Media Council principles state that while issues of race are a legitimate subject for discussion, publications should not place gratuitous emphasis on it in their reporting (Principle 7: Discrimination and Diversity).While the Media Council acknowledges that the complainant feels uncomfortable with the headline of this article, neither the headline nor the article reaches the threshold of gratuitous emphasis on an issue of race.

The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Marie Shroff, Pravina Singh and Tim Watkin.

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