Case Number: 3495

Council Meeting: March 2024

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Taranaki Daily News

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Discrimination and Diversity
Photographs and Graphics

Ruling Categories: Social Media


  1. The Taranaki Daily News published an article on Stuff about a 2023 Christmas Day shark sighting at a popular local beach. The article, published online on December 26 and updated the next day, was also published in the newspaper on December 27.
  2. Rebecca Aitchison complained the article breached Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; Principle (2) Privacy; Principle (7) Discrimination and Diversity; Principle (8) Confidentiality; and Principle (11) Photographs and Graphics. The complaint is not upheld. 

The Article

  1. Ms Aitchison posted a video of a shark on the New Plymouth Community Facebook page on Christmas Day, 2023.
  2. A journalist at the Taranaki Daily News, which is a member of the Facebook page, messaged her asking to talk to her about the video.
  3. Ms Aitchison replied that she was not interested. The journalist responded asking if she would mind sharing the video with the paper so it could post it on to the story. Rebecca Aitchison replied strongly, again making it clear she was not interested.
  4. The paper went ahead with a story which was published online on December 26. The article outlined how a Christmas Day shark sighting at Ngamotu Beach was not enough to keep people out of the water on Boxing Day.
  5. It mentioned a video of the shark’s fin as it moved between two areas of the beach and stated the video was posted on the community Facebook page on Christmas Day.
  6. The article said the post’s caption read: “Down at the end of the wharf right now. Dolphin or Shark? Tide coming in.’’
  7. The article named Rebecca Aitchison as the person who posted the video.
  8. The story stated the video attracted hundreds of comments with some people speculating what type of shark it might be – including a great white.
  9. People fishing, kayaking, or swimming in the area on Boxing Day had seen the video. Some people hoped to see the shark and some were not concerned about being in the water.
  10. The story went on to cover sharks found in New Zealand waters, sightings, and what people should do if they encountered a shark. It mentioned previous shark incidents, including an attack the week before in Southland.
  11. The Taranaki Daily News published the article in its newspaper on December 27. The photographs used in the article were of two children at the beach and a wider landscape image of the area.
  12. The online article was updated the same day – with Ms Aitchison’s name removed. The main online image was of a blow-up shark at the beach, taken by the article’s author.

The Complaint

  1. Rebecca Aitchison complained to the journalist via the same Facebook message thread on the 26th December, saying she was disappointed her name and her shark footage were used in the article after she had said she was not interested.
  2. The Taranaki Daily News apologised. It said it had only used information and video posted on a public site but it had removed her name from the story.
  3. Ms Aitchison responded that she assumed the journalist contacted her seeking her permission, which she had declined to give. The article had now been printed in the newspaper, with her name in it, which was also unacceptable.
  4. Ms Aitchison then lodged a formal complaint with the Media Council, reiterating that the paper did not have her permission to publish her name or use the video.

The Response

  1. In its response to the Media Council, the Taranaki Daily News said a colleague sent the journalist a link of the shark video that Rebecca Aitchison had posted to the community Facebook page.
  2. The Taranaki Daily News regularly monitored the Facebook page and sourced stories from it. The page had 14,300 members, including the newspaper.
  3. The video had more than 200 comments. The journalist visited the beach and Port Taranaki that day and most people spoken to had seen the video. Several said it was the reason they were not allowed in the water.
  4. The paper deemed the sighting and video to be of high public interest and the online article was published that afternoon.
  5. As the video had been widely seen on Facebook and Ms Aitchison’s name was already in the public arena, the journalist did not seek permission to use her name.
  6. The journalist acknowledged Rebecca Aitchison was not interested in being part of the story but the video had strong news value so this did not stop the Taranaki Daily News from reporting on her video, naming her as the person who posted it and informing readers that she did not want to give more details.
  7. The video was embedded into the story as a link. Embedding is a Facebook function and common in online media stories. The owner of a post can cut the link at any time by changing their privacy settings or removing the video from the original post – which is what happened in this case.
  8. After Rebecca Aitchison complained, the journalist apologised that she was upset and explained only publicly available information was used. The Taranaki Daily News attempted to address her concerns by removing her name from the online story.

The Discussion

  1. The complainant cites five Media Council Principles in her complaint. The Media Council considers Principle (2) Privacy to be the most pertinent.
  2. Principle (2) Privacy includes this statement: ‘’Everyone is normally entitled to privacy of person, space and personal information, and these rights should be respected by publications. Nevertheless, the right of privacy should not interfere with publication of significant matters of public record or public interest ...’’
  3. It is common for media outlets to report from social media posts. This can include text, images, and video.
  4. The question in this case is whether it was reasonable for the Taranaki Daily News to publish Rebecca Aitchison’s name and use the video, given the Facebook page in question is a private group with more than 14,000 members.
  5. The Council believes it was reasonable. The fact the complainant proactively published to the Facebook group where more than 14,000 people could potentially see her name and video, coupled with the fact that the Facebook group allowed the Taranaki Daily News to be a member, means that there cannot be an expectation of privacy.
  6. The paper did have the option of not naming Ms Aitchison in the article but doing so did not amount to a privacy breach. It is noted the Taranaki Daily News contacted Ms Aitchison to make her a bigger part of the story. However, the complainant’s decision not to talk to the paper did not mean she had the right to veto its use of the posted material. It is noted the Taranaki Daily News later tried to resolve the situation by removing her name.
  7. The complainant has not demonstrated any breaches of the other Principles she cited. The images used were Stuff’s and there is no case made out that discrimination or diversity are factors in the story, or that the complainant could expect to have been treated as a confidential source. The Council also notes the paper gave Ms Aitchison an opportunity to comment.
  8. Decision: The complaint is not upheld.
    Council members
    considering the complaint were the Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Tim Watkin, Scott Inglis, Marie Shroff, Richard Pamatatau, Rosemary Barraclough and Reina Vaai.


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