ANDREA BUBENDORFER AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2224

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2011

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Social Media

Andrea Bubendorfer complained to the New Zealand Press Council about comments made on Stuff’s parenting blog about disciplining children and also about a parenting blog author writing about allowing her young children to sleep unsupervised in amber necklaces. The Stuff.co.nz website is a news and information website operated by Fairfax Media.
The complaints are not upheld.
Background:
Stuff hosts a blog that highlights the joys, trials and tribulations of raising young children, and a lead article followed by comments from readers which was updated on 15 September 2011 attracted a lot of comments from readers, mostly of those raising young children.
One reader made the following comment about disciplining her children: “2 year-olds certainly do have impulse control – not that they want you to know it! My kid is no angel – but he can sit thru an hour and half church service being quiet, and sitting pretty still, looking a book. He can do this because we’ve trained him to do so – having short practice sessions at home. Training doesn’t require the trainee be capable of reason – a dog can be trained not to touch food sitting in front of him – shouldn’t we expect at least the same from an intelligent child? A baby learns not to stick their finger in their eyes through the negative associations that accompany it – requiring no understanding or reasoning! My kid knows that every time he disobeys us, he will be disciplined (as Christians, we do it God’s way, a light smack which is never given in anger, and he says sorry …be good boy now…big cuddle, and he goes away HAPPY, and peace reigns once again.) I’m telling ya, God’s way work, for everyone involved!!”
These comments, and others following, triggered considerable discussion from contributors, including the complainant, about the illegality of smacking children, and alternative ways to discipline them.
Another article in September by another columnist (Melissa McDonnell) discussed the problems associated with teething including, amongst other things, the use of amber teething necklaces to help soothe restless little children to sleep. She questioned readers as to what they saw as the pros of cons of pharmaceutical and homeopathic remedies for teething problems.
A flurry of replies ensued, including one from a father who reported that the amber teething necklace, worn in bed, certainly had soothed his troubled daughter and enabled her to sleep.
The Complaint
The complainant stated that she is upset that Stuff has published a comment on its parenting blog promoting smacking young children to discipline them. Smacking children is not a matter of personal opinion in this country, she said, it is in fact illegal.
She stated that she is also upset that Stuff published a comment by the parenting blog author suggesting that her baby and toddler are left to sleep unsupervised in amber necklaces, and also further comments from another parent that his children wear their amber necklaces to bed.
In support of her complaint about the danger of babies wearing amber necklaces, she cited the New Zealand Institute of Consumer Affairs position on amber necklaces. This states very clearly that children wearing these necklaces should be supervised as there is a risk of strangulation and choking; the necklaces should be removed even if the baby is unattended for a short time.
Ms Bubendorfer stated she considered it negligent for a blog writer to publish material that is acknowledged to be a safety risk for babies and toddlers, and not to provide guidelines for safe and appropriate use.
Stuff’s response:
The perceived pros and cons of smacking children have been a continuing subject of debate in Stuff’s threads for several years. The pro-smacking comments made by one reader were clearly her personal opinion and other responses from other readers were critical of her comments.
The topic of amber teething necklaces has been raised before on the Parenting blog, and argued over. People are entitled to differ, and some readers did.
Stuff noted that blogs are “personal, conditional, arguable, freewheeling and often knockabout forums.” They are not “intended to be, and should not be read as, a piece of definitive scholarship or traditional journalism.” Most readers understood that a reader’s comment is a statement of opinion.
“Many of our bloggers and commenters make points that put them at odds with tradition, expert opinion or majority opinion or even question the law. Stuff allows them fair leeway to do so, as that is within the spirit of blogs. We are alert to boundaries of taste and legality and take our responsibilities seriously, but we also believe in the vibrancy and resilience of blog forums and the capacity of readers to handle conflicting points of view.”
Further “the section of our Terms & Conditions quoted by Andrea Bubendorfer, is clear that we require commenters not to post material that is illegal. It does not mean that we are obliged to reject any comment indicating that a reader has arguably broken the law. To do so would disqualify much reasonable debate on the marijuana laws, alcohol use, speed limits, online downloading, benefit abuse and a range of other subjects. Comments on such subjects are moderated with care and an eye on context, but certainly not with a blanket view to deletion.”
Stuff outlined previous dealings with Ms Bubendorfer and said the rejection of her comments was reasonable in the circumstance and in accordance with the terms and conditions of the website.
Discusssion and Conclusion:
Comments made by a blogger and her readers on a website such as Stuff are not the views of the website or its editors. They are analogous to letters to editors in a newspaper.
The Press Council in the past has ruled that letters to the editor, and comments on websites, can at times be robust, and contentious. The opportunity for readers to express alternative views should be available, and it is clear that the comments posted on the Stuff parenting website present a range of views on the best way to parent children.
These views on parenting will not please everyone. The Press Council does not believe that the smacking advocate was given undue prominence. It was interesting to note that readers recognised that smacking a child may be illegal under the law; it was also interesting to note that the vast majority of readers were using alternatives to physical punishment when raising their children.
The issue of allowing babies to wear amber teething necklaces, either unsupervised or when sleeping, again provoked considerable reader response, both pros and cons. This matter had also been raised on previous blogs.
The Press Council does not uphold either complaint. The Council does not believe that the discussion around these issues was irresponsible.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.