RULING BY THE NEW ZEALAND MEDIA COUNCIL IN THE COMPLAINT OF JASON MARSDEN AGAINST TVNZ NEWS

Case Number: 3326

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2022

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: TVNZ

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Photographs and Graphics

Ruling Categories: Advocacy
Misleading

Overview

Jason Marsden complains about an article Man arrested following Invercargill shooting published by TVNZ on 27 May 2022. The complaint falls to be decided under Media Council Principles (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and (11) Photographs and Graphics. The complaint is not upheld.

The Article

The article was very short and reported that a man had been arrested after a person was shot in the leg. It noted that the armed offenders’ squad had been called, that a person had been taken to hospital with moderate injuries and that the people involved were known to each other.

The article included a picture of a handgun and ammunition on a black table, which was labelled as being sourced from istock.com.

The Complaint

Jason Marsden complains about the use of the stock image of a pistol and ammunition. He notes that the article makes no reference to the type of firearm involved in the altercation, but the image would lead a reasonable person to believe it was a pistol. If the firearm involved was actually a rifle, the article would be misleading.

Pistols are highly controlled in New Zealand and non-imitation pistols are rarely used in crimes (rather it tends to be rifles and shotguns). He considers that if a pistol was not used in this crime it unfairly adds stigma to those involved in permitted pistol actives and may colour future discussion around pistol firearms legislation.

He considers that pictures and images function as key attention grabbers and can be more important than the headline. Where a stock image is used it should reflect the subject matter of the story as much as possible.

Given it would be very easy to find a stock image of a rifle there is no excuse for using an image of a pistol, simply to represent a firearm. He gives several analogies to support his complaint including that using a photo of a pistol to represent a generic firearm would be equivalent to “using a photo of a helicopter when reporting an aircraft crash when in fact a home built fixed wing aircraft was involved”.


The Response

TVNZ confirmed that 1News (which did the initial reporting) does not know what firearm was used in the incident. TVNZ does not agree that the use of the stock image of the handgun is unfair, 2 inaccurate or unbalanced. It was not reported what firearm was used and this is not relevant to what was being reported – the arrest of man following another person being shot.

There is no statement or implication in the article that the firearm used was the one depicted and that image was clearly identified as a stock image. It was not manipulated in any way. It was simply used to represent ‘a firearm’. Neither was there a suggestion that handgun owners were more likely to be involved in the illegal behaviour being discussed than anyone else.

In its final response TVNZ rejects the complainant’s suggestion that gun crime in New Zealand never involves handguns and so this image ought not to have been used. It also points to various pieces of information that suggest at least some of the illegal firearms in circulation are handguns. In circumstances where the type of gun used was unknown it was reasonable, and not misleading, to use this image.

The Discussion

This complaint falls to be decided under Media Council Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance which states:
  • “Publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance, and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission …”
And Principle (11) Photographs and Graphics which states:
  • “Editors should take care in photographic and image selection and treatment. Any technical manipulation that could mislead readers should be noted and explained …”

We do not agree that the use of the image of a pistol to illustrate this article was inaccurate or misleading, or that particular care should have been taken in choosing this image. This was a short and straight forward account of an arrest following a shooting. It used what was clearly a stock image of a gun. We do not consider that the use of such a generic image would have led many readers to categorically conclude that a pistol had been used in the shooting when the type of firearm was not specifically identified in the article itself. Nor do we think it paints those who are legitimately involved with pistols in a bad light, or that it is likely to influence perceptions when it comes to gun control.

We also note that there is no information about the exact type of firearm used. It may have been a pistol. Equally, it may have been some other type of firearm. It follows, that while it would have been open to TVNZ to use a picture of a different type of firearm, it was not a breach of Media Council Principles to use a picture of a pistol in this instance.

The complaint is not upheld.

Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (chair), Hank Schouten; Rosemary Barraclough; Tim Watkin; Scott Inglis; Ben France-Hudson; Judi Jones; Marie Shroff; Alison Thom; Richard Pamatatau.

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