MS KATHLEEN BERRY AGAINST THE SUNDAY STAR-TIMES

Case Number: 570

Council Meeting: MARCH 1995

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Sunday-Star Times

The New Zealand Press Council has not upheld a complaint by Ms Kathleen Berry against the Sunday Star-Times for its publication of an article, that in her opinion, used inappropriate and inaccurate material from its files and was prejudicial to her interests. In the Press Council's view, it was understandable Ms Berry should have been distressed over the article's resurrection of details that she would have preferred should be forgotten. It did not feel, however, that the Sunday Star-Times could properly be held at fault for the content and emphasis of the article or for the way file material was used.

On 26 June 1984, Ms Berry wrote to the editor of the newspaper about an article concerning her that appeared that day. Previously, she said, she had met with Ms Toni McCrae of the Sunday Star-Times to discuss an employment dispute in which she was involved with the Auckland Area Health Board. The interview was arranged, she said, solely for discussion of her claim for compensation for wrongful dismissal and any article concerning it was, she said, to be approved by her lawyer. The article that actually appeared over Ms McCrae's name was however very different from what had been discussed. It contained references from a story written over two years before for the Sunday Star by another journalist Daryl Passmore, which, she felt, was a distorted and sensationalised account of an association she had had with a prison inmate named Paikea who had been sentenced for rape. Photographs of herself and Paikea were used by the Star-Times without her approval and the heading over the article linked their association with her bid for compensation. She demanded the article's immediate retraction.

On 27 June Ms Berry appealed direct to the Press Council, repeating her criticisms of the Sunday Star-Times and particularly of its use of the earlier story by Mr Passmore. In subsequent representations to the Council, she contended that it was irregular that the account of her interview with Toni McCrae which was accurate, should be accompanied by old file material that was inaccurate and harmful.

On 29 July, the editor of the Sunday Star-Times informed the Press Council that it was normal practice for the paper to include in a story of current interest, background information and photographic material drawn from its files. Mr Passmore, now deputy editor of the Star-Times, stood by the accuracy of the original story in the Sunday Star, in the preparation of which, he said, Ms Berry had collaborated and about which she had not complained at the time. Material from that story was entirely relevant to Ms McCrae's account of the interview about Ms Berry's action against the Auckland Area Health Board. Indeed, the editor contended, the background information about Ms Berry's relationship with Paikea, was pivotal to any article about her taking legal action to seek compensation from her former employers for forced resignation because of the way in which they had threatened her over that relationship. The editor denied that any undertaking had been given by Toni McCrae to clear her account with Ms Berry's lawyer. She had, however tried to contact him about the pending court action, but he was overseas.

Ms Berry said of the editor's claim that details of the relationship with Paikea were "pivotal," that it was only partly true since there were many other issues and details involved. She repeated her judgment of the original Passmore story as inaccurate and demeaning and insisted that she had protested directly to him at the time. She said that in her interview with Toni McCrae no mention of her association with Paikea was made. Had she known that Ms McCrae's account would be altered as it had been, she would not have consented to the interview. She insisted also that an undertaking had indeed been given that Ms McCrae's account of the interview would be cleared with her lawyer. This was especially important since the court case was due to take place shortly after.