Case Number: 2972

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2020

Decision: Not Upheld with Dissent

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Headlines and Captions


1) Tim Conder is a family violence lawyer who complains about the headline Love triangle the catalyst for Foxton gang shooting on a November 17 Stuff story published online.

2) This complaint is considered under Principle 6 - Headlines and Captions which states

Headlines, sub-headings, and captions should accurately and fairly convey the substance or a key element of the report they are designed to cover.

The complaint was not upheld by a majority of Council members 6:3

The Article

3) The story is based on a police summary of facts released to Stuff after gang member Timothy Junior MacDonald admitted the manslaughter of Joeroa Te Rupe.

4) MacDonald shot Mr Te Rupe in Foxton on October 14, 2019.

5)Three days earlier, on October 11, 2019, Mr Te Rupe had learned his former partner Maxine Tindall and MacDonald were in a relationship. Mr Te Rupe and Ms Tindall had previously been in a 10-year relationship which ended in October 2018.

6) MacDonald and Ms Tindall had been living together since mid-2019. They had met after Mr Te Rupe introduced them.

7) On learning of the relationship, Mr Te Rupe became jealous, and sent several hostile messages to Ms Tindall.

8) On October 14, Mr Te Rupe went to Ms Tindall and MacDonald’s’ address.Before arriving, he had messaged Ms Tindall, threatening to harm MacDonald and come to their house. Ms Tindall did not see the messages, before Mr Te Rupe arrived.

9) Mr Te Rupe knocked on the couple’s door, and was met by MacDonald, who had armed himself because the manner in which Mr Te Rupe knocked on the door indicated he was “not a friend”.

Mr Te Rupe was shot in the ensuing encounter, and later died.

The Complaint

10) Mr Conder says the term ‘love triangle’ is problematic because it usually refers to a situation in which a person has two concurrent relationships with different people (either knowingly or unknowingly on the part of those two people).

11) He says the term does not apply to a situation where one relationship has ended, and a new one has begun.

12) Mr Conder says the headline creates unfair implications for Ms Tindall. Using the term “love triangle” legitimises Mr Te Rupe’s wrong attitude that there was an ongoing relationship of some kind with her.

13) “It also tells women … who face the continued possessiveness and jealousness of their former partners, that society views their decision to leave the relationship as illegitimate.”

14) “It implies that when they enter new relationships, while their former partner is still demanding their ‘faithfulness’, they are in a ‘love triangle’ and that they are engaging in two relationships at once.

15) “This is not the case, nor should women who already face significant difficulties in leaving relationships of this kind be faced with this kind of attitude from others.”

The Response

16) For Stuff, Manawatu editor Matthew Dallas says he appreciates Mr Conder’s concern for how domestic violence is portrayed and discussed in the public space, but in this case Mr Conder’s interpretation of the headline is extremely narrow and would not be shared by the majority of Stuff’s audience.

17) Mr Dallas says the police summary of facts presented a situation where MacDonald and Ms Tindall were in a relationship, cared for each other, and Ms Tindall’s previous partner Mr Te Rupe still had feelings for her or still felt entitled to be part of her life.

18) Mr Dallas said the Oxford Dictionary defines a love triangle as “a situation that involves three people, each of whom loves at least one of the others, for example a married woman, her husband, and another man that she loves”.

19) The Collins Dictionary similarly defines it as “a relationship in which three people are each in love with at least one other person in the relationship”.

20) Mr Dallas says there is no attempt, be it through the headline or the article itself, to downplay Ms Tindall’s ending of her relationship to Mr Te Rupe, or to excuse Mr Te Rupe’s behaviour.

21) The use of ‘love triangle’ in the headline was used to signal the complex, combustible relationships of three people, which led to a homicide, Mr Dallas says.

22) “Its use does not explicitly convey two concurrent relationships, and therefore does not disempower Ms Tindall, her rights or her decision-making.

The Discussion

23) Mr Conder says that a love triangle usually refers to a situation in which a person has two concurrent relationships with different people (either knowingly or unknowingly on the part of those two people).

24) In his final comment, Mr Conder says that “Fundamentally, I disagree with the [Stuff] comments about the common meaning of the phrase. “

25) However, Mr Conder’s final comment also acknowledges that the relationships described in the Stuff story could possibly be described as a love triangle. He says “While I accept that this is a possible meaning, by no means is this the principal meaning that the term holds.

26)It is clear that there are multiple interpretations of the term ‘love triangle’. Mr Conder himself acknowledges this.

27)The Media Council considers that Stuff has applied a valid meaning of the term ‘love triangle’ in its headline and provided the context of the term in the story. Therefore the headline is accurate.

(28) The complaint is not upheld by a majority of Council members 6:3.

(29) The Media Council would like to note that although it has found that this headline does not breach Media Council Principles, this finding does not debase the considered points Mr Conder has made in his complaint, regarding domestic violence and the inappropriate behaviour of former partners toward women.

Dissent from Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson and Christina Tay

The media has an important role in how the public views family violence. Reporting of family violence can contribute to reducing the acceptance and prevalence of such violence in our communities.

Research has shown that media reporting of family violence tends to downplay the severity of the violence, blame the violence on factors such as a failed relationship, and have little focus on the victims.

Media reporting can also perpetuate commonly held myths about family violence, like it was an unpredictable tragedy (when victims have usually experienced years of abuse), and that violence was caused by a failed relationship (rather than the perpetrator using violence to get what they think they are entitled to) and that violence and love go together (it is not normal to be violent and abusive towards someone you love).

The headline adopted for this article "Love triangle the catalyst for Foxton gang shooting" perpetuates at least two of these myths: that the basis of the murder was a failed relationship and that the murder was an act of love (rather than an act of violence, power and control).Further, it suggests that no matter how clear the woman was that the relationship was over, Mr Te Rupe appropriately had an ongoing interest in her personal choices. We agree with the complainant’s observation that by characterising the circumstances that led to the manslaughter as a ‘love triangle’ the report denies the woman involved the agency she exercised when she terminated the relationship.

While the complainant has accepted that it is possible that the phrase ‘love triangle’ means a situation in which ‘three people are each in love with at least one other person in the relationship’, we consider that it was not appropriate to use it in these circumstances. Research clearly shows that family violence is usually driven by a desire to continue to exercise power and control.

The dissenters would uphold the complaint under Principle 6: Headlines and Captions as the headline misleads the reader as to the nature of the crime reported on in the article. Further, the dissenters would ask that newsroom reporters familiarise themselves with the government guidelines for reporting on family violence: http://www.areyouok.org.nz/assets/AreyouOK/Media/Guidelines-for-Reporters.pdf

Media Council members considering the complaint were Liz Brown (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.


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