RIGHT TO LIFE NZ Inc AGAINST THE SPINOFF

Case Number: 2856

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2019

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Spinoff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Columnists

Overview

1. Ken Orr, Secretary of Right to Life New Zealand Inc, laid a complaint received on 22 September 2019 againstThe Spinoff online news site. The complaint was about an interview by Alex Casey with Terry Bellamak, President of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ), published onThe Spinoff on 29 August 2019. The article was headlined 10 common myths about abortion, busted, and subtitledIn the latest episode of On the Rag, Alex Casey sits down with ALRANZ’S Terry Bellamak to bust some common myths about abortion.

The Complaint

2.Mr Orr complains that the article breaches Media Council Principle 1, Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. He believes the article did not maintain a foundation of fact. He received no response to his initial complaint direct toThe Spinoff.

3.To support his complaint about lack of accuracy, Mr Orr has provided the Council with a full statement of the right to life or anti-abortion position. He provides a mixture of stories, arguments, research and other references, interpretation of facts, medical background, law and statistics, which challenge the points made on the abortion debate in the article. Among other points, he says that the article’s statement that that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer is incorrect and provides research and other references to support his contention that there is a proven link. He also cites evidence about foetal pain, and contends that statistics in the article about the number of women in New Zealand who have had an abortion are misinterpreted.

The Response

4. The Editor Toby Manhire, in relation to the complaint of lack of response fromThe Spinoff initially, says that it appears Mr Orr’s complaint was sent to a generic email address forThe Spinoff and went unnoticed among the scores of emails received daily at that address. He regrets that it was not picked up, but notes it is disappointing Mr Orr did not email the complaint to his personal address which is available onThe Spinoff website.

5.In relation to the substance of the complaint, about lack of accuracy, fairness and balance, Mr Manhire says the content of the article is clearly presented as the informed opinion of Terry Bellamak who has been president of ALRANZ since 2005. He says her statement on foetal pain, breast cancer links, and the number of New Zealand women who have had an abortion are supported by factual and or peer reviewed evidence. He provides various links to research that support his contention that the article is accurate in its factual claims. He provides a link to the Family Planning organisation which states that 1 in 4 women in New Zealand will have an abortion during their lifetime, and notes that they are a credible and trustworthy organisation.

The Decision

6.The abortion debate is one of the most longstanding and controversial issues covered by the New Zealand and international media. Arguments for and against abortion have been and continue to be rehearsed in the public arena over many decades, in multiple media outlets and by lobby groups, professional and community groups as well as individuals. Claims and counterclaims on facts and arguments are common in the context of this issue.

7.The Media Council cannot be expert in the detailed factual validity of various medical and other claims and arguments in such cases. What is clear is that this debate continues, and media outlets are entitled to continue to cover various angles. Facts are continually disputed and differing interpretations are possible. Many other sources for alternative information are available, and have been for the many years of the debate. The article was clear and upfront about the source of the content, the President of ALRANZ Terry Bellamak. Readers were therefore made fully aware at the beginning of the article of its likely direction.

8.In relation to the failure of The Spinoff to respond to Mr Orr’s complaint, the Council believes that this should not have happened. The Council notes that the information about the complaints procedure onThe Spinoff website is hard to read, and invites contact on the generic The Spinoff address, which Mr Orr used. However, the Council notes that the editor acknowledges and regrets the correspondence was overlooked.

9.The Council considers that, in the context of the ongoing issue, The Spinoff article is not in breach of Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.