VIANNE AVERY AGAINST MEDIAWORKS NEWSHUB

Case Number: 2949

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2020

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Mediaworks

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Conflict of Interest
Privacy
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. This is a complaint that an article published on the Newshub website breached a woman’s privacy, was not accurately presented as comment or opinion, was unfair, and did not declare a conflict of interest.

Background

2. The Newshub website published an item on September 14, 2020 headlinedWoman dubbed Milford Karen starts filming and yelling at couple who parked up around her neighbourhood.The details of the article had been taken from a Reddit post and linked back to the original posting on that site. It described an encounter between a couple – Hugh Brothers and his wife – and a woman on a residential street in Auckland. In this encounter, Mr Brothers films the woman as she confronts them about what they’re doing in the street. She also films the couple as she tells them to leave, saying they don’t belong there.

3. The article included the video filmed by Mr Brothers. The video on the Newshub website had the woman’s face blurred, the original video on the Reddit site did not.

The Complaint

4. Vianne Avery saw the article on the Newshub website the day it was published. She contacted Mediaworks that night, saying she had instantly recognised the woman and knew who she was. She argued the item was cruel, unfair and nasty, and questioned its news value. She took issue with calling the woman a ‘Karen’, saying it was a label intended to embarrass. She also alluded to private grief the woman had recently experienced, alleging that may have played a role in how she behaved. Ms Avery asked for the item to be removed from the website before causing further harm. On these grounds she argued it breached Media Council Principle’s 2 and 4; Privacy, and Comment and Fact.

5. Ms Avery also alleges the man who filmed the encounter, Mr Brothers, could somehow be involved withNewshub. She accuses him of using the footage to embarrass the woman in a public forum. On this argument, she believes Principle 10 has been breached, Conflicts of Interest.

The Response

6. Dianne Martin, Broadcasting Standards Manager for Mediaworks Standards Committee responded to the complaint. She apologised for any upset caused but said they had reviewed the article and were satisfied it complied with the Media Council principles.

7. Ms Martin said Newshub had merely reported the experience of a couple parking their car in an Auckland suburb, and their encounter with a woman who shouted at them. She said it did not contain any nasty comments about the incident, nor any commentary or judgement about what took place.

8. Ms Martin said Newshub had taken care to blur the face of the woman in the video so that she was not identifiable. However, in subsequent correspondence, she acknowledged the Reddit link in the original story did provide readers with access to material that did identify her. The decision was made to remove the link to the Reddit page from theNewshub article on 12 October.

9. While not upholding the complaint, Ms Martin said they had shared Ms Avery’s comments with the Digital news team. She did not address the allegation of a conflict of interest.

The Decision

10. The Media Council is concerned by the lack of balance in this article. No attempt appears to have been made byNewshub to seek comment from the woman at the centre of the story to hear her account. It is one-sided, and given the article describes her as ‘wild’ and ‘crazy’, she deserved a right of reply.

11. The Council notes the woman commented on the Reddit post explaining why she had acted the way she did. It would seem she would have been easy to find and open to a conversation about the events that night to provide the necessary balance.

12. The Council is also concerned by the use of the term ‘Karen’, a pejorative that has risen to prominence in 2020 to describe a woman perceived as entitled, using her white privilege to complain and get her own way. It is derogatory and is designed to insult. Mr Brothers is the one who introduces the term here, but the media should be careful in its use.

13. While the Council accepts Newshub blurred the woman’s face in the article on its website, it notes the link to the original Reddit post was included in the story and was easy to access should a reader wish to click through. There, they would instantly be able to watch an unedited version of the video with the woman fully identifiable.Newshub did eventually remove the Reddit link from its article, but only four weeks after it was originally published and Ms Avery had taken her complaint to the Media Council.

14. Principle 2, Privacy, states that those suffering trauma or grief call for special consideration. Ms Avery says the woman at the centre of the complaint lost her father two weeks before the encounter, but couldn’t be by his bedside due to COVID-19 restrictions. The woman herself, in her reply comments to the Reddit post, says she has just lost her dad to cancer under extremely awful circumstances due to COVID-19. She refers to it having been a tough few months.

15. On the issue of a perceived conflict of interest by Ms Avery, it would appear Mr Brothers has worked for Mediaworks in the past, for 10 months in 2017. There is no indication however to suggest he was working for the company when the story was published. The Council also notes he worked as a copywriter in the advertising department, not as a journalist.Newshub may have been alerted to the footage on Reddit by Mr Brothers, but this in itself does not establish a conflict of interest.Newshub should still have run the material through the usual journalistic tests however.

Decision

16. The Council did not uphold the complaints under Principle’s 4 and 10, Comment and Fact, and Conflicts of Interest. Even though the article was presented from one person’s point-of-view, it was not an opinion piece. And while Mr Brothers has worked for Mediaworks in the past, there’s no evidence to suggest he used his connections there to get his account published for the purpose of public humiliation.

17. The complaint under Principle 2, Privacy, was also not upheld. The woman at the centre of the story was filmed in a public street, confronting a member of the public. She approaches the couple, filming them on a phone as well. It does seem somewhat disingenuous of Newshub to blur the woman’s face in its article while supplying the Reddit link to access the unedited footage. But the Council notes the effort to protect the woman’s identity.

18. On the issue of grief, while it would appear the woman has recently suffered the loss of a loved one, this is a very different situation to someone being filmed at the likes of a funeral or in the aftermath of a traumatic event. The encounter played out in a public place with no expectation of privacy.


19. The Council does however find the article to have breached Principle 1, Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. It is essentially a personal account of an interaction, posted on social media. It is one-sided and unfair. The Council can see no attempt having been made to contact the woman at the centre of the story to get her side. She is painted as a wild, crazy ‘Karen’ based purely on Mr Brothers’ account of how things played out. The Council has seen the woman’s comments on the Reddit post, and there she explains why she reacted the way she did. This is crucial detail Newshub failed to include, that would have provided the necessary balance and context.

The complaint is upheld under Principle 1, namely Fairness and Balance.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper,Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.