The New Zealand Press Council has partially upheld a complaint against the New Zealand Herald arising from the publication of an article based on a speech given by High Court judge Dame Silvia Cartwright. The complaint by Toni Allwood on behalf of the Women’s Information Network said the article published on 20 September misrepresented what Dame Silvia said in the speech delivered at the launch of the organisation’s campaign on poverty.

Ms Allwood considered the effect of what she saw as misrepresentation, impugning Dame Silvia’s professional reputation and personal judgment.

She complained the article was wrong in three particulars.
1 - Dame Silvia did not say that some politicians refused to acknowledge there was poverty in New Zealand.
2 - Dame Silvia did not mention the Business Roundtable by name nor did she use the words “real crime. ”
3 - The headline “Judge Takes Swipe at Govt” was wrong in that Dame Silvia did not attack the Government but pointed out that the campaign against poverty crossed all political party lines.

In response the associate editor of the Herald, Don Milne maintained that Dame Silvia had gone beyond her role as a High Court judge when speaking at the campaign launch. He maintained that what she said during an election campaign must have been intended to have a political effect.

He acknowledged that the speech did not refer to the Government directly. He maintained that by using the phrase “thinly veiled attack on the Government” the Herald acknowledged that the Government was not explicitly named. He said the inferences made in the article were justified, given the timing of the speech.

Mr Milne accepted the Herald made a mistake by referring to the Business Roundtable. He acknowledged that this was an inference from Dame Silvia’s remarks and that she did not mention the Business Roundtable.

He also argued that a valid inference could be taken that Dame Silvia said some politicians refused to acknowledge the existence of poverty in New Zealand.

Dame Silvia’s speech, of which the Herald had a copy, said “we need all political leaders in New Zealand to recognise that poverty exists here and join the fight to eradicate it.”

She also said : “Some might say there is no poverty in New Zealand. Others will say that New Zealanders on low incomes do not really live in poverty when contrasted with people in developing countries who face famine, war and health epidemics.”

The Press Council finds that while Dame Silvia did not directly say that some politicians refused to acknowledge that poverty existed in New Zealand this could be inferred from her words, the impending elections and comments very recently made by politicians regarding the existence of poverty in New Zealand. This part of the complaint is not upheld.

On the second part of the complaint, the Council finds that Dame Silvia did not directly mention the Business Roundtable and the Herald has acknowledged this. This part of the complaint is upheld.

The Council finds that Dame Silvia did not use the words “real crime.” Although the words appeared in inverted commas it may well be that quotation was intended to be attributed as a recent statement of a politician. However the Herald did not make that clear, and this part of the complaint is upheld.

The Council notes that judges must be careful in what they say in public and be guarded in preserving the line between their own role and the role of the
Government. Equally, newspapers must be careful to report what judges actually do say. Newspapers should exercise care in their manner of presentation and especially when suggesting that any judge has transgressed the boundaries between the judiciary and the government.


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