SIMON DORANTE-DAY AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 3135

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Apology and Correction Sought
Social Media

Overview

1. Simon Dorante-Day,  who claims to be the love child of Prince Charles and Camilla Shand (now the Duchess of Cornwall), complained that the New Zealand Herald breached Media Council principles related to accuracy, fairness and balance; comment and fact; and corrections. The complaint is not upheld but it is noted that in respect of this complaint and other past complaints that we have commented on, the Herald failed to handle complaints promptly.

 

Background

 

2. The Herald published an article on May 18, 2021 headlined Aussie man claiming to be Prince Charles’ long-lost son chats to Jono and Ben on the Hits. The story reported an interview on a radio station in which Mr Dorante-Day set out his claim to be the secret son of Prince Charles and Ms Shand. It also reported the comments of a royal correspondent on some of the claims made.

The Complaint

3. Mr Dorante-Day complained the Herald had incorrectly named his adopted grandparents as Winifred and Ernest Day when their family name was Bowlden.

4. He disputed the correspondent’s comment that his grandparents would have likely received an award for their service in the Queen’s household and that there was no record of Ernest receiving an award when, in fact, he had received an award for 25 years in the Prison Service.

 
5. The correspondent was also incorrect and misinforming when he referred to photos of Ms Shand taken in 1965 in which she was “obviously not pregnant”. Mr Dorante-Day said he was born in April 1966 and that she would not have looked pregnant until late 1965.

6. The Herald was wrong to say Prince Charles was sent to Australia on an official royal visit at that time when he had, in fact, been sent to Australia to attend Geelong Grammar for two terms.

 
7. He also challenged the comment made by the correspondent that - “Dorante-Day’s claims Camilla ‘disappeared’ for nine months weren’t entirely accurate” – and asked if the correspondent had any evidence of Ms Shand in public between July 1965 and April 1966.

8. Mr Dorante-Day belatedly raised another point, his concern about offensive comment carried on the Herald Facebook page that “someone ‘shoves a pole up my anus’ to extract DNA”. He noted an Australian High Court ruling (Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd v Voller), handed down in September, that found publishers were legally accountable for comment carried on stories posted on Facebook.  He warned that to avoid future legal action it should turn comments off altogether as professional media certainly wouldn’t allow such comments to remain. 

The Response

9. The Herald’s senior newsroom editor David Rowe, with whom the complaint landed after being dealt with initially by the Lifestyle and Entertainment editor, said the main angle of the story was Mr Dorante-Day’s claim that he was the son of Prince Charles and Ms Shand.

 

10. The royal correspondent was interviewed to provide analysis of those claims. The views expressed were his and the Herald quoted them as such in the same way Mr Dorante-Day’s version of events was presented.

 

11. His grandparents’ name was amended. 

 

12. Other points raised by Mr Dorante-Day were prefaced with “You state”. The correspondent was quoted in all those points as a royal expert. They were not the Herald’s own view.

   

 13. As for comments around when Ms Shand would or would not have been pregnant, and references to photos taken in 1965 which showed she was not obviously pregnant, these were based on Mr Dorante-Day’s estimation.

 

14.  As for his grandfather’s awards, this was again a quote from the correspondent who said the grandfather did not receive an award for working in the Queen’s household. The documents shared by Mr Dorante-Day appear to be for services to Prison Services, rather than directly within the Queen’s household.

 

 15. Overall the story was balanced and did not seek to refute Mr Dorante-Day’s claims outright. For example, the story says: (the correspondent) hastened to add that he wasn’t dismissing Dorante-Day’s story. “I think there’s a few facts that need to be explained first. This would have tremendous ramifications… short of a disaster or some scandal like this there is no way Prince Charles is going to give up his rightful place to the throne.”

The Decision

16. Mr Dorante-Day’s claim to being a royal love child, which has been reported in a number of media outlets around the world, was not news to the Herald’s readers.  In February 2020 it ran a story reporting that Mr Dorante-Day had launched legal against the Prince’s official royal estate in a bid to confirm paternity. It was brief and there is no indication that it was treated seriously enough to be followed up on.

 17. Mr Dorante-Day filed a complaint about that story saying that it contained inaccuracies and had exposed him to numerous derogatory and defamatory comments on the Herald’s Facebook page. He received no response from the Herald. A subsequent complaint to the Media Council could not be proceeded with when Mr Dorante-Day did not provide material to substantiate his complaint.

18. The May 18, 2021 article was largely a regurgitation of the same story, except this time it was based on interviews carried on a radio station that had a commercial association with the Herald.

 19. The Herald failed to reply to Mr Dorante-Day’s written complaint and only responded after it was referred to the Media Council.  He finally got a response on July 19 – two months after the article ran and five weeks after the complaint was first made.

20. The Media Council repeats comment it made earlier this year (ruling 3075) where it expressed concern that the Herald only responded to complaints after the complainant, having received no response, has complained to the Media Council.  The Council understands publications can receive many complaints but a responsible and responsive media must have systems to monitor complaints and respond promptly. The Herald took more than a month, and a formal complaint to the Media Council, before it finally acknowledged the complaint and then just apologised for overlooking emails. In that respect its handling of this complaint was not satisfactory.

21. After receiving Mr Dorante-Day’s complaint, the Herald belatedly corrected the mis-naming of the grandparents.  It took no further action.

22. The rest of the complaint had little foundation. There was another minor slip, of little account, when the correspondent wrongly said Prince Charles was sent on a royal visit, when in fact he had been sent to an Australian school for two terms. 

23. The other points raised about the contents of the story are all disputable or a matter of opinion. As Mr Dorante-Day was advised in a ruling last year, complaints of inaccuracy must be substantiated. Merely stating that something is incorrect cannot be the basis for a valid complaint.

24. The complaints on Media Council Principles 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance), 4 (comment and fact) and 12 (corrections) are not upheld.  The article was neither inaccurate save in the minor respects mentioned, or unbalanced.

25. However, we believe Mr Dorante-Day may be justifiably aggrieved about the way the Herald allowed offensive reader comment to stand on its Facebook page. In his final comment on this case he referred to the recently released Australian High Court ruling which sheets home responsibility for third party posts on Facebook and social media pages.

26. The ruling (Fairfax v Voller), handed down on September 8, says publishers who host Facebook and social media pages need to take care to monitor third-party posts to avoid liability for publishing defamatory matters.

 27. This is not the place for us to speculate whether Fairfax v Voller will be followed by New Zealand courts, or indeed how it will be applied in Australia.  Moreover no issue of defamation arises here, and the story which prompted this complaint predates the High Court ruling. The Media Council also notes that Mr Dorante-Day elected not to take legal proceedings, but instead signed a waiver to allow his case to be considered in this forum.

28. We also note he asked the Herald to take the offensive comments down.  This was done as soon as it was bought to their attention in September. That was four months after it first went on-line, which was well beyond the time when the story would have had any real currency.

 29. Despite the concerns we have mentioned, largely not related to the substance of the article, the complaint is not upheld.


Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Sandy Gill, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff and Tim Watkin.

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