ALBERT NIPPER AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2628

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Columnists
Offensive Language
Unfair Coverage

Overview

The New Zealand Herald on Wednesday 6 September published an opinion piece from Rachel Stewart titled ‘Men in suits scariest gang of all’. Ms Stewart outlines the comments made by Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett regarding removing the human rights of gang members.

Ms Stewart points out that the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act enshrines the principle that everyone is equal under the law. She states that she has a problem with singling-out gang members and goes on to argue that some ‘men in suits’ also commit a range of crimes. Profiling, she argues, is out-of-date and who is good and bad is not black and white. To her, ‘men in suits’ represent power, control and patriarchy and the suit represents another gang patch that is against the homeless, poor and needy.

The Complaint

Mr Nipper raises a number of issues with the column. He argues that men are discriminated against in the column and that ‘men in suits’ cannot be compared to gang members and the column is ‘anti-male’.

His view is that gangs are organised crime groups who use intimidation and extortion to control the drug trade. He outlines his views about the crime and destruction that gangs create. He argues that gang members wear a patch to intentionally signal that we should be afraid of them. He sees comparing ‘men in suits’ to gangs as insulting to hard working men.

In further correspondence, Mr Nipper goes on to suggest the photo accompanying the article depicts only European men in suits and has singled out white men. He is particularly offended by the phrase ‘[men in suits will be] relegated to their rightful place’ [Just as a part of the fabric of society, rather than the dominant force].

The Response

Oskar Alley of the New Zealand Herald responds by saying Ms Stewart’s column was a direct response to the National Party’s election policy launch designed to crack down on gangs and the methamphetamine trade. This included a plan to give police more power to search gang members’ cars and homes. The central premise of the column is that focusing law enforcement activity on gang members misses the “alarming crimes of ‘men in suits.’”

Mr Alley argues that the column is not designed to be anti-men but focuses on the profiling of gang members and the assumption that only gang members commit crime in New Zealand. Ms Stewart does not state that all men are guilty of criminal activity, rather that incidents of domestic violence, for example, are not restricted to gang members.

Mr Alley responds to specific points in Mr Nipper’s complaint. He states that the headline accurately reflects the content of the article and that the article is opinion is clearly set out in the first two paragraphs. He counters Mr Nipper’s statements about gangs and the drug trade by stating others are involved in such crimes. He suggests Mr Nipper has taken the statement ‘relegated to their rightful place’ out of context and that it is Ms Stewart’s opinion and wish that the current status quo of male dominance will change. He rejects Mr Nipper’s comments that the article undermines the work of police by arguing that it is a commentary on a proposed policy announced during an election.

The Decision

Included in print media is the opportunity to express opinions, particularly on topical current issues. Such columns and opinions provide not only interesting reading but can provoke readers to think and encourage debate. The column in question has done just this.

Ms Stewart has analysed a topical issue and presented a unique angle on it. She has done so openly as her opinion and theNew Zealand Herald has clearly marked it as such. The complainant clearly disagrees with her views. TheHerald offered Mr Nipper the opportunity to submit a Letter to the Editor but Mr Nipper declined.

The complaint is not upheld

There were two aspects of Mr Alley’s comments that were of concern to the Press Council. First, Mr Alley states that the media is not covered by the Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Commission advise that should any media organisation breach specific areas and grounds in their legislation (such as unlawful discrimination) that the Commission could and would use its broad powers.

Second, Mr Alley defends Ms Stewart’s column by stating that when Ms Stewart was referring to ‘men in suits’ she was actually referring to corporations and the ‘men in suits’ who run them. This statement, however, seems incongruous with the text of the article which in a number of places specifically outlines the actions of white collar men (for example, who are capable of crimes such as intimidation of women). The Press Council, in good faith, offers media organisations the opportunity to respond to complaints and asks that its process is treated with respect.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Jenny Farrell, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Christina Tay.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.