Case Number: 2696

Council Meeting: JULY 2018

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Confidentiality


1. Philip Temple complains about an article published on May 19, 2018 by Stuff in the “Your Weekend” supplement, which was widely distributed to media including theWaikato Times, the Press and The Dominion Post. He is primarily concerned that there was a breach of Media Council Principle 2 relating to privacy, but also complains of a conflict of interest (Principle 10) and about accuracy, fairness and balance (Principle 1).

2. The Media Council does not uphold the complaint.


3. On May 19, 2018, Stuff published an opinion article by Philip Matthews about the Ockham New Zealand book awards. Mr Matthews was one of the judges of the awards. The article appeared in the “Your Weekend” supplement and was widely distributed.

4. The article quoted directly from an email (which it described as “cranky”) sent by Mr Temple to Mr Matthews in April 2018 and expressing Mr Temple’s concerns about the omission of a certain novel from the Ockham long list.

The Complaint

5. Mr Temple complains that the email was private and the use of material from it without permission was a breach of his privacy. He had not received any reply to the email, and the first he knew of its publication was personalised Twitter abuse. He had certainly not given permission for any part of it to be published.

The Response

6. Stuff’s editor-in-chief, verticals, Geoff Collett, responded to the complainant saying that Stuff considered the complaint to be baseless. There was no indication in Mr Temple’s email that he intended it as a private communication.

7. In addition, Mr Collett said, Mr Temple contacted Mr Matthews using a Stuff (Fairfax media) email address and described Mr Matthews in his email as “an influential Christchurch media arts commentator”. Clearly Mr Temple was aware he was a journalist as well as one of the awards judges. The email said that Mr Temple wished to add his thoughts to a debate which was already taking place in the news media. “It could hardly be read as a private, personal communication on a matter of sensitivity or secrecy, or otherwise demanding confidentiality”.

The Discussion

8. Mr Temple’s primary complaint is of a breach of privacy. There is no overall presumption that correspondence is private unless it is specifically expressed to be available for publication and in this case it is by no means clear that the email was, or was intended to be, a private communication. It was written to a journalist on a matter that was not obviously personal or sensitive and has every appearance of a contribution to a debate that was already taking place in public.

9. The article in question was not a news report but the opinion of the writer. It was clearly marked as opinion. Principle 1 does not apply to opinion pieces in the way that it applies to news reports. There must be a foundation of fact, and such fact must be accurate, but balance is not essential, and the opinion may very well be expressed in a way that some readers would consider unfair.

10. Mr Temple also complains of a conflict of interest, though he accepts that any conflict is mild. In most circumstances, media have an obligation to declare conflicts of interest rather than to avoid them altogether. In this case it was made clear that Mr Matthews was a judge for the awards.

11. The complaint is not upheld


Media Council members considering the complaint were Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.

Sir John Hansen took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


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