TIM CARTER AGAINST RNZ

Case Number: 3357

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2022

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Radio NZ

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact

Ruling Categories: Court Reporting

Overview

  1. On 16 February 2022, RNZ published an article titled My rapist was found not guilty - young woman horrified and revictimised during trial. Tim Carter complains that the article breached Media Council Principles (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and (4) Comment and Fact. The complaint is not upheld


 

The Article

  1. The article provides pseudonyms for the parties involved and this decision will also use the pseudonyms used in the article for clarity and consistency. The young woman who is at the centre of this article will therefore be referred to as Olivia and the man, as Tom.

The Complaint

  1. Mr Carter raises concerns in respect of two Media Council Principles the first being Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. He complains that the title of the article My rapist was found not guilty, undermines the presumption of innocence and the jury’s decision that Tom was not guilty on all charges.

  2.  Mr Carter also complains that the article breached Principle (4) Comment and Fact. He asserts that Olivia’s story is not stated as opinion, it is stated as fact. By anonymising Olivia, the complainant says the author of the article was able to invent facts to suit her story.

 

The Response

  1. RNZ responded that the only fact referred to in the article was that Olivia had taken ten days to come forward and then later returned to police with further evidence.

  2. RNZ also explained that the story was largely Olivia’s account of her experience of sexual assault and the criminal justice process.

  3. In response to the use of the word “rapist” in the title of the article, RNZ states that it was used as the ordinary and common meaning of the word, beyond the legal context.

  4. RNZ draws specific attention to the assertion from the complainant that “men are not collectively guilty” and explains that it is a first-hand account of Olivia’s personal experience with sexual assault and the justice system.

The Discussion

  1. The Media Council acknowledges that the presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle in New Zealand’s justice system. The Media Council also acknowledges the importance of allowing complainants to comment on their interactions with the criminal justice system. Finding the balance between these two positions is not straightforward.

  2. Assessing firstly whether the article breached Principle (1), the complaint draws attention to the use of the word “rapist” in the article. The defendant was found not guilty of rape and therefore cannot be described as a “rapist” in a legal context. The discussion relating to Principle (1) rests on whether it is accurate or fair for someone who was found not guilty of rape, to then be referred to as a “rapist” in a publication.

  3. This article is a report of Olivia’s views and opinions.  The headline was accurate in that it was a correct quote of her view of what happened.  This was plainly to be a first-person account of Olivia’s experience.  Olivia referred to the defendant as her rapist because this was her personal experience with him. It is an emotive piece and while her experiences are in direct conflict with the jury’s decision, it is deliberately written through a single lens. The style of writing lends Olivia the freedom to share her reflections on an experience that was particularly significant for her. When Olivia refers to the defendant as her rapist, she is expressing it in the ordinary sense of the word based on her personal interactions and perceptions. The definition of a rapist is also not restricted to the outcome of a court proceeding. The allegation does not meet the threshold required for a breach in respect of accuracy.

  4. With regard to fairness, the Media Council agrees that publications of this nature must be carefully considered, particularly in light of the detrimental impact it may have on the   individuals involved. However, the article acknowledged that the jury did not agree with Olivia’s case. This is stated in the title. The defendant in the trial is also not named in the article. Any undue harm to the defendant has been significantly minimised because he has not been named or identified. The allegation in respect of fairness has not been proven.

  5. There is nothing to suggest that Olivia’s account was invented and there is no basis for the Media Council to accept the suggestion that it was made up.  Nor does the Media Council consider the implicit criticism of the jury decision to be an assault on the rule of law, as suggested by the complainant.  This was a decision of a jury based on reasonable doubt.  Indeed, it is important to the rule of law that people are able to challenge the outcome of court decisions and the Council does not consider that the border between legitimate criticism and remarks contemptuous of the court has been crossed.

  6. The Media Council notes that balance is not considered because this is a report of a person’s views and a contribution to a longstanding issue, namely the fairness of the jury trial process to the victims of sexual assault.  The fact people have been anonymised removes the need for balance and fairness to an individual.  It has been emphasised that it is written largely from Olivia’s perspective.

  7. The complaint under Principle (1) is not upheld.

    Principle (4) Comment and Fact

  8. The complaint alleges that there is a blurring of opinion and fact.

  9. The Media Council acknowledges that with  personal experience  of what happened in a trial of this nature, there may be some tension with the way that the circumstances and interactions leading up to the trial have been expressed, but we do not think it crosses any boundary. The article establishes that this piece is about Olivia’s personal experience and her perspective and voice throughout the article is clearly expressed as her view.

  10. The complaint is not upheld under Principle (4).

Decision: The complaint is not upheld

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

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