Case Number: 2674

Council Meeting: JUNE 2018

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Photographs


Tyran Powell complains that a Stuff article on April 26 about a fire at a student flat was in breach of Media Council Principle 2 (Privacy) and Principle 11 (Photographs and Graphics).

The Stuff piece was headed “Firefighters comb debris after fire destroys Christchurch student flat.”The complainant is the brother of one of the residents of the student flat.

The Complaint

Tyran Powell complains that the Stuff article included the exact address of the student flat in Riccarton and the story was also accompanied by a video of the residents in distress.Both added further distress to the occupants and were in breach of Media Council principles.

Stuff in subsequent email exchanges with the complainant and his sister (one of the occupants of the house) acknowledged that the exact address would not “usually” been published.The property was “looted” the night after theStuff article was published.Mr Powell’s belief is that the burglary was helped by the publication of the address.

Mr Powell believes there was no public interest in publishing the address and video showing distressed residents.The publication of the address and video added further distress, grief and trauma.The video violated the privacy of the occupants.

The Response

Kamala Hayman, Stuff’s Canterbury Editor, responded that Principle 2 also states that the right to privacy should not interfere with the publication of significant matters of public interest or record.This event was of significant public interest.The fire produced large quantities of thick smoke, a plume which was visible across Christchurch.

Ms Hayman acknowledges that the Google satellite map showing the exact address / location of the fire was removed.However this was done out of sympathy for the tenants rather than because it was usual practice not to publish exact addresses.

While it was not usual practise to identify a street number this was in no way an admission thatStuff had breached Media Council principles or such information would not be published in future where appropriate.The publisher or editor continues to have discretion.

The specific location of the house was clear to neighbours and passers-by.The fire damage was significant and therefore visible from the street.A motivated person intent on burglary could have located the house by a number of means.The precise location of the house was not private information and therefore was not in breach of Principle 2.

The video on the Stuff article shows occupants appearing at two points.In the first instance, two tenants are putting their arms across each other as they walk away from the camera.Their faces are not visible.In the second appearance, a group of residents are being spoken to by a firefighter.It is assumed that the residents are under stress but there is no visible sign of distress on their faces.

No one suffered physical harm as a result of the fire.While clearly loss of a home and belongings is upsetting, the level of grief and trauma cannot be compared to a situation where a person has died.Stuff’s article was not in breach of Principle 11.

The Discussion

Principle 11 requires editors to undertake their responsibilities with care in regards to image selection and treatment, particularly in relation to distressing or shocking situations, however this is not an absolute science as previous decisions have indicated.Loss of property does bring about stress given it is a loss of things which are valuable and in some situations like photo albums or souvenirs priceless for that impacted individual.In this case however the Council does not think the images used reached the threshold of Principle 11 and that special consideration was given in regards to image selection.

The Council agrees that given the intensity of the blaze there was public interest, even more so in the Riccarton area given the large plume of smoke.The question for the Council is whether the google map of the exact address was in breach of Principle 2.The Council does not believe the google map image added to the story.We believe Stuff came to the same conclusion. Whilst Ms Hayman notes that it was out of sympathy for the occupants that the image was later withdrawn, its withdrawal reaffirmed that it wasn’t a significant value-add element to the story.

The Council is unable to conclude whether the publication of the exact address helped the burglary nor it is within our mandate to do so.However we do note that the size of the fire had attracted significant attention in the neighbourhood itself.

We urge editors to think more carefully about publishing the exact address in their stories.On most occasions, they do not substantively add to the story especially when the public interest element of the story is covered off by other parts of the article.

However on this occasion the complaint is not upheld on both Principles.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen (Chairman), Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tracy Watkins.


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