Right to Life, an incorporated society opposed to abortion, complains that a report in The Daily Post of Rotorua on November 8, 2012, contained a sentence that read, "Pro-life protesters recently sent threatening messages to staff at a Southland abortion clinic." It says there is no evidence such messages were sent by those opposing the Southland clinic or indeed any "pro-life" group. The complaint is not upheld.

The Complaint
Right to Life says there is only one such group protesting at the establishment of an abortion clinic at the Southland Hospital. It is called Southlanders for Life and it is supported by Right to Life NZ Inc. which knows the Southland group to be peaceful and law-abiding.

The society complains that the published statement "demonises" the pro-life movement and has caused its Southland affiliate pain and humiliation. It asked the newspaper for proof of the published statement.

The Response
The editor of The Daily Post replied that the report did not mention Southlanders for Life or any group. Its statement was a reference to an anonymous message received by the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand, which was widely reported by other media at the time.

The editor believed the newspaper's report carried no implication that Southlanders for Life were responsible for the threat. He added, "Right to Life members are not the only anti-abortion advocates in the world."

He invited the complainant to submit a letter to the editor for publication.

The Decision
The Press Council does not accept the editor's contention that the offending sentence carried no implicit reference to those who have publicly opposed the Southland clinic. Readers would naturally draw that inference.

Since the reference was to an anonymous threat it is unfortunate the report did not say it was anonymous, but readers would probably have assumed it came from "pro-life protesters" in any case.

The complainant's concern could have been easily rectified by taking up the editor's offer to consider a letter for publication. No doubt it would not be the first time Right to Life or a similar organisation has dissociated itself from anonymous actions of this nature.

This was a passing and possibly gratuitous reference to the Southland case in a news item about free access to contraception which all those quoted, including the Abortion Law Reform Association, agreed was a better solution to unplanned pregnancy.

The story was illustrated with the case of a young Rotorua woman who had recently had an abortion and she talked of the ordeal it had been for her. The alleged threats and name-and-shame tactics of opponents of the Southland clinic were included to give her view that such tactics were unfair.

The story also quoted an organisation called Voice for Life New Zealand which clearly disapproved of abortion and did not believe free contraceptive measures would reduce termination rates. Thus the brief reference to the Southland case appears to have been included for the sake of balance.

It may be tiresome for groups such as Right to Life to dissociate themselves from discreditable action at every passing reference to it in a newspaper but a letter to the editor is the appropriate remedy. The inadequacy of the published statement in this case was not sufficiently serious for the complaint to be upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.


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