ALLAN GOLDEN AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2012

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2007

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Headlines and Captions
Accuracy
Misleading

The Press Council has not upheld a complaint by Allan Golden against stuff.co.nz concerning an NZPA article published on 14 August 2007 about the release of Family Court statistics for 2005.

Complaint
Mr Golden complains that he is unhappy with the headline and his main complaint relates to the “bold type one sentence preface which follows the heading and date.”
Fathers win custody battles too
Latest statistics suggest gender is not a factor in custody applications to the Family Court, with fathers just as likely as mothers to win custody of their children.
Mr Golden believes the heading and introduction are misleading as data reported in the article shows more than twice as many mothers than fathers are granted custody.
He argues:
a. It is irrelevant to link the granting of custody to the sex of the applicant, as this outcome is not an indication of who deserves to have the role.
b. It is an accidental but irrelevant happening that the applicants’ ratio is roughly the same as the award ratio.
c. Decisions about which parent will initiate a custody claim can be arbitrary and thus cannot be interpreted as a lack of gender bias.
d. There is an agenda to make males satisfied with their lot regardless of the facts.
Mr Golden finds the article disgusting and complete rubbish.

Response
Stuff deputy news editor Cathy O’Sullivan agreed that the report was confusing but endorsed its accuracy in reporting the figures provided by the Family Court
She stated:
a. “The report states that 1805 male applicants, constituting 65% of those who applied for custody, were successful in their application. The 4046 successful females represented 69% of all female applicants.”
b. The thrust of the article, that men were just as likely as women to gain custody when they apply to the Family Court, is accurate.
c. The report did not explore the reason that far fewer men applied for custody than women.

Complainant’s response
Mr Golden rejected this reply and expanded his original complaint to include:
a. Rejection of the term ‘custody battle”
b. Speculation that the article might result in future applicants believing there is an advantage in being “first in” for custody
c. A suggestion that the Family Court is “trying to illogically downplay its opinion or position adopted that women usually make the better parent in these cases”, and that the website was improperly going along with that.

Stuff’s second reply
Mark Stevens, editor of stuff.co.nz responded as follow:
a. No offence was meant by the use of bold type for an introduction; it is standard.
b. The introduction was an interpretive sentence written by a journalist, as is common practice.
c. Use of the term custody battle is legitimate as two litigants are before a court to determine custody.
d. The odds faced by men and women when making custody applications are roughly equal.
e. It was not appropriate to comment on the “getting in first” issue nor on speculation about the motives of the Family Court
f. The article was a fair and accurate interpretation of the report.
Mr Golden rejected the reply.

Decision
This is a sensitive issue and one that provokes strong and emotional reactions in affected readers. The NZPA report, carried on stuff.co.nz, is an accurate account of the release of 2005 Family Court statistics and accompanying interpretive comment by the Family Court. It is the view of the Family Court that “it is usually the applicant, irrespective of gender who gains custody” that lies at the core of Mr Golden’s response to the article.
Mr Golden’s view, that this is an inaccurate interpretation, could be taken up with the Family Court or placed in the public arena by way of a Letter to the Editor.
However, the Press Council does not find that the article is misleading.

Council members considering the complaint were Barry Paterson, Aroha Beck, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, John Gardner, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Denis McLean, Alan Samson and Lynn Scott.