NEW ZEALAND COLLEGE OF MIDWIVES AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALDIntroduction
The New Zealand College of Midwives (NZCOM) complains that an article in the New Zealand Herald which was published on 25 May 2012 breached the Council’s principles of accuracy, fairness and balance, and comment and fact. The same article was republished on the Herald's website - nzherald.co.nz
The complaint is not upheld.
The newspaper reported that twenty-year-old Casey Nathan died at Waikato Hospital hours after the birth of her son at Birthcare Huntly on 21 May. Her son, Kymani, died two days later. Their deaths came two weeks after a Coroner’s ruling on the death of another Waikato baby, and the near death of his mother.
The newspaper provided comment from Action to Improve Maternity founder Jenn Hooper, and noted that neither the NZCOM or the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ New Zealand committee would comment.
The NZCOM argues that:
• The article published unqualified statements of Ms Hooper in which she stated as fact - not comment or opinion - that the deaths of Casey Nathan and baby Kymani "would highlight the need to overhaul the country's maternity system."
• Moreover, to publish such a statement by a person not directly involved and before the Coroner had launched an investigation was unfair, inaccurate and unbalanced.
• Even if the Press Council were to consider Ms Hooper's statement as comment or opinion, the newspaper should not publish such statements which assert or imply cause of death linked to the standard of midwifery care provided unless it was based on facts so that a response can be made.
• The newspaper's attempt to contact NZCOM for comment did not exonerate it from its failing to uphold the principle of fairness and balance as the College had no knowledge of the specifics of the case when it was contacted and therefore no authority to comment on that particular case. Moreover, the newspaper's attempts to contact the midwife did not exonerate the paper as any comments attributed to the midwife would have breached professional standards - the midwife was therefore prejudiced by not being able to respond.
• Other publications had been balanced in their reporting so there was no need for the lack of balance in NZ Herald's reporting.
• The midwife who had cared for Casey and Kymani had been "defamed" by Ms Hooper's published statements and treated unfairly. The midwife supported the complaint.
The Editor's Response
The editor responded that NZCOM had shifted its ground from its original complaint to the newspaper. The claim by NZCOM that neither it nor the midwife could comment was contradicted by the first iteration of the complaint - that they did not get an opportunity to comment.
Every attempt was made by the journalist to contact the midwife and NZCOM, but neither was prepared to give a substantive comment.
It is normal and appropriate news reporting to seek and publish comments on matters of ongoing public interest. Ms Hooper was making a comment and her comment was reported accurately.
NZCOM had misrepresented what Ms Hooper had said. Ms Hooper's comment was aimed at the system. She did not criticise the conduct of the midwife or make any comment about what occurred during the birth. Secondly, Ms Hooper's comment was confined to hoping that this case would highlight the need for reforming the system.
In conclusion, no Press Council principles were breached and the journalist followed correct procedures.
The newspaper did not breach the principle relating to comment and fact. Ms Hooper's statements are clearly presented as comment or opinion.
The newspaper said it made every attempt to contact NZCOM and the midwife. The Council has no reason to doubt this assurance.
The silence of both the NZCOM and the midwife in response to enquiries from the newspaper cannot be a barrier to a newspaper publishing on a matter of ongoing public interest. Moreover, an opportunity to provide a view was provided and not taken up by both parties; even to explain to the journalist the professional restrictions. There is no breach of the Council's fairness and balance principle.
The Press Council rules on ethical issues and does not rule on defamation.
The Council's principles have not been breached. The complaint therefore is not upheld.
Press Council members considering the complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Peter Fa’afiu, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind and Stephen Stewart.
Sandy Gill and John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.