Case Number: 3408

Council Meeting: 26 June 2023

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Hawke's Bay Today

Principle: Privacy
Headlines and Captions
Photographs and Graphics

Ruling Categories: Behaviour of Journalists


  1. On 13 March 2023 Hawke’s Bay Today published online an article headed Cyclone Gabrielle: Havelock North’s Joll Rd residents seeking answers as cleanup continues. Shannon Bray complains that the headline and a photograph printed in the original article breaches Principle (2) Privacy, Principle (6) Headlines and Captions and Principle (11) Photographs and Graphics.

The Article

  1. This article describes the damage done by Cyclone Gabrielle in hard-hit Joll Road, Havelock North. Flooding of the Mangarau Stream which runs behind properties in Joll Road has damaged homes, sewerage systems and a privately-owned bridge that connects five properties to the street. Three weeks after the cyclone, residents were still cleaning their properties of silt and having to use a council provided portaloo. Those living in the five residences across the bridge were still facing challenges accessing their homes.
  2. While there had been significant water flowing down from the Mangarau Dam into the stream during the cyclone, the Hastings District Council have yet to understand exactly how this led to such volumes of water, given that waterways had been cleared by the council and that the Mangarau Stream was not noted to be a flood-risk prior to Cyclone Gabrielle.
  3. The three photographs in the original article were of the portaloo at the end of Joll Road, the Mangarau Dam and the damaged bridge across the Mangarau Stream.

The Complaint

  1. Mr Bray’s key complaint is that the Hawke’s Bay Today photographer entered his property without permission to take the photograph published of the damaged bridge that leads to his property, alleging a breach of Principle (2) in that “Everyone is normally entitled to privacy of person, space and personal information, and these rights should be respected by publications.”
  2. Relating to the photograph of the bridge, Mr Bray complains that it was a sensationalist image that gave no consideration to any concerns that he had in this situation, breaching Principle (11) Photographs and Graphics.
  3. Mr Bray also complains that the headline and caption, Cyclone Gabrielle: Havelock North’s Joll Rd residents seeking answers as clean-up continues, wrongly implies that he has requested the article be written. He was particularly concerned about this given that at the time he was in sensitive discussions with the Hastings District Council about his property post flooding.
  4. In talking with the editor of Hawke’s Bay Today, Mr Bray was told that the photographer had not been at fault in taking the photograph from Mr Bray’s property. Following this discussion Mr Bray made his complaint to the Media Council on 15 March 2023.
  5. In his complaint Mr Bary says that if Hawke’s Bay Today  had “accepted that entering the property for this purpose (i.e. taking the photo of the bridge) was legally or morally incorrect, and apologised, I probably would not have registered this complaint.” In a later comment to the Media Council Mr Bray said that he does not want a public apology.

The Response

  1. Receiving Mr Bray’s complaint in the evening of 13 March, Hawke’s Bay Today removed the photo of the bridge over Mangarau Stream from the online copy the following afternoon, saying later that they did not want to cause any additional stress to Mr Bray or other flood victims through their publication. In a phone call later that day the editor explained to Mr Bray that while the photo would be deleted from Hawke’s Bay Today  records and would not be used again, he maintained that the photographer had a right to take the photo.
  2. With further consideration the editor accepted that he was incorrect in his belief that they had “the right to take the photo” and on 17 March sent Mr Bray an email accepting fault and making a personal apology.
  3. Hawke’s Bay Today does not believe there is any remaining dispute over the taking and publishing of the photograph given that both parties say it was a privacy breach and that the editor admitted fault and apologised to Mr Bray. They have offered to print an apology online and in print if Mr Bray  wishes.
  4. The editor says in response to the complaint about the headline that it is accurate and reflects what residents of Joll Road told Hawke’s Bay Today.
  5. Hawkes’ Bay Today agrees with Mr Bray that if they had contacted him early on for comment the concerns raised in the complaint could have been prevented but he was not part of the story as he was not known to the journalist.

The Discussion

  1. The Media Council understands the distressing impact on many New Zealanders caused by the Cyclone Gabrielle and particularly to those whose homes were so badly affected, as was the case for Mr Bray. A month after the cyclone, communities were struggling to get their lives back to normal, at worst still clearing silt, making repairs and having temporary arrangements for basic plumbing. This article took one street in Havelock North to show the impact of the flooding and the slow progress in getting back to normal.
  2. In preparing the article the journalist spoke to some residents of Joll Road to find out how things were going. Without seeking the necessary permission, the accompanying photographer moved on to the property of the complainant to take a photograph of the damaged bridge over the Mangarau Stream at the back of Joll Road.
  3. The photograph in question was removed from the online issue the day after Mr Bray made his complaint. After some discussion with Mr Bray, three days later on 17 March the editor emailed him to acknowledge that the paper was at fault for trespassing and offered an apology.
  4. The swift removal of the photo does not negate the fact of the trespass. However, the admission of fault and the apology to Mr Bray within three working days seems a fair and timely response.
  5. While troubling to Mr Bray, the photograph of the bridge does not present as sensationalist. Given the remediation actions taken by Hawke’s Bay Today  and the general acceptance of the article by the complainant, the Council has exercised its discretion and does not uphold breaches of Principles (2) Privacy and (11) Photographs and Graphic.
  6. Hawke’s Bay Today  asserts that the heading and caption are accurate and reflect what Joll Road residents told them. The Media agrees and does not uphold Principle (6) Headlines and Captions.
  7. The complaint is not upheld

Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Hank Schouten, Rosemary Barraclough, Tim Watkin, Jonathan Mackenzie, Jo Cribb, Marie Shroff, Alison Thom, Reina Vaai, Richard Pamatatau.



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