TARA ROBINSON AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2903

Council Meeting: MAY 2020

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Photographs
Privacy
Tragedies, Offensive Handling of

Overview

On the 3 March, 2020 Stuff published an article titled ‘Unexplained’ death of West Coast woman.Tara Robinson complains that the article breaches several NZ Media Council principles.

The New Zealand Media Council would like to extend its condolences to friends and family of the deceased and especially to Ms Robinson.

‘Unexplained’ death of West Coast woman 

Stuff published a brief article on the ‘unexplained’ death of a woman on the West Coast.The article was published nearly nine hours after the woman’s body had been found. The content of the article refers to the police being present at the West Coast property and that “Upon arrival police located the body of a woman”. The article includes a photograph which shows police cars parked in a parking area outside the property.The photograph carries a caption “Police presence at an Arahura property where the body of a woman was found.”

The Complaint

Tara Robinson sent a complaint to Stuff on 4 March requesting that the article be taken down, “…we have not had time to tell family and friends, as this article was up before I even found out.”Ms Robinson did not disclose her relationship to the deceased in the initial complaint to Stuff.In a follow up email to Stuff, Ms Robinson explained that the photograph allowed the family to be identified, “See, the problem [is], the house is recognisable due to us living in a small community.”There was a further request to “remove the article” as family still needed to be informed.There was one further request in an email exchange response with Stuff to again remove the article.

Ms Robinson has referred to the breach of NZ Media Council principles: 1, 2 and 11.

The Response

In an initial response to Ms Robinson, editor Kamala Hayman has advised “Any situation where there is obvious police presence does raise questions amongst the public about what has happened.The media’s role is to explain what is happening in our communities with the facts, and without sensationalising a situation”.Ms Hayman also provided an explanation of how Stuff attempted to mitigate identification. “We were also mindful of minimising intrusion into the individual’s privacy by minimising the view of the house and by not identifying its owner.”

Ms Hayman said that Stuff was prepared to correct any factual errors in the article.

In a further explanation about the photograph, Ms Hayman explained “We did not name the road where she had died, and cropped the photo of the property to focus on the police cars.The house itself was almost entirely removed from the image.”The response provided by Ms Hayman included the full photograph that was taken and the cropped photograph that was used with the article.

The Decision

In the complaint, Ms Robinson has referred to the following principles and contends that each of the following principles has been breached:

Principle 1: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance

Principle 2: Privacy

Principle 11: Photographs and Graphics

The content of the article was limited to information about the police presence and a brief explanation of the situation at the property.NZ Media Council Principle 1 states that publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance, and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission.In this matter, the content of the article was focused on informing the public that police were present at an address to investigate an ‘unexplained’ death.

NZ Media Council principle 2 focuses on privacy and outlines the requirement to balance private and public interests.‘The right of privacy should not interfere with publication of significant matters of public record or public interest’.The article covered the death of a woman in the Arahura area of the West Coast of NZ.The content of the article reflected this and the photograph that was taken was taken from a public place and cropped to focus on the police cars in the parked area outside of the address.

There is an additional provision under Principle 2 for ‘those suffering from trauma or grief call for special consideration.’ In the email exchanges it was not disclosed to Stuff by Ms Robinson that she was the deceased’s daughter.

The Council acknowledges it must have been upsetting that wider family and friends might not have been informed, and this has been taken into consideration alongside the nine hours’ time lapse. In matters such as this where police have been called to a property the news media need to balance the considerations of how long they wait to report on a newsworthy event such as this.

The article included a photograph which is covered by NZ Media Council principle 11: Photographs and Graphics.The principle cautions editors to “take care in photographic and image selection and treatment.”Stuff have published a photograph that focuses on the police cars parked outside the property of the deceased woman’s property.Ms Robinson has explained “See, the problem [is], the house is recognisable due to us living in a small community.”Stuff editor, Ms Hayman has provided an explanation of how the picture was cropped “We did not name the road where she had died, and cropped the photo of the property to focus on the police cars.The house itself was almost entirely removed from the image.”The Council accepts Ms Robinson’s point about “living in a small community” and how this would make the house “recognisable”.The photograph that was published with the article showed a common car park area which in a small community would possibly be recognisable, Stuff had tried to make the focus of the photograph the police cars.

Decision/Summary

Principle 1: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance has not been established as being breached in this complaint.The brief article provided an explanation of the presence of the police at a property and basic information of why the police were present. Not upheld.

Principle 2: In considering a breach of this principle, The Council have taken into account the perspectives of Ms Robinson as well as Stuff.The timing of the release of the article did not allow for all family and friends to be informed of the death however, there was no breach of privacy in this matter as provided for by this Principle.Not upheld.


Principle 11:Ms Robinson has expressed a view that in a small community the property was recognisable. Ms Hayman has responded by stating that the original photograph was cropped to remove the house and to that the focus of the photograph was on the car parking area and the police cars.In weighing up these factors, the Council finds that this principle has not been breached. Not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan Mackenzie, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

Rosemary Barraclough stood down to maintain the public member majority.