BARBARA COWIE AGAINST OTAGO DAILY TIMES

Case Number: 2611

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2017

Verdict: Upheld with Dissent

Publication: Otago Daily Times

Ruling Categories: Privacy

Overview

Barbara Cowie complains that a story published by Otago Daily Times on June 30, 2017 titled “Stalker jailed for 8 months” breaches Press Council Principle 2 (privacy). Principle 2 provides as follows

Everyone is normally entitled to privacy of person, space and personal information, and these rights should be respected by publications. Nevertheless the right of privacy should not interfere with publication of significant matters of public record or public interest.
Publications should exercise particular care and discretion before identifying relatives of persons convicted or accused of crime where the reference to them is not relevant to the matter reported”

The story referred to the conviction and jailing, for “stalking”, of the granddaughter of a well-known Dunedin identity who has died. The story detailed the offence along with similar offences for which the woman had been previously convicted. The story opened by mentioning the woman’s family relationship with the man.

The Complaint

Mrs Cowie’s concerns relate to the naming of the man. She says she represents the man’s widow, the convicted woman’s grandmother. Mrs Cowie says the widow is distressed by the connection the newspaper makes. The reference is irrelevant and inappropriate. She says the convicted woman is in need of psychiatric treatment. The family reference adds nothing to the story. Mrs Cowie says while the story may be “interesting to the public” its publication “is not in the public interest.”

Mrs Cowie also claims the ODT journalist penning the story was motivated by a “vendetta” against the convicted woman.

The Response

ODT rejects the complaint. The newspaper refers to the convicted woman’s regular reported brushes with the law. While acknowledging the report will be distressing to the woman’s relatives the family is well known in Dunedin. The surname is recognised and “clarity is desirable”. The family link is relevant.

The newspaper refers to instances where other publications have linked convicted individuals with well-known families of which they are members. Such linking is not uncommon. The paper says family connections are in the public interest. These connections are handled responsibly.

ODT refers to “threats” the woman has made against its journalist but otherwise does not accept the story was in any way prompted by this element.

The Decision

Principle 2 requires newspapers to exercise particular care before identifying relatives of convicted persons. While the named man has no privacy to protect, his widow is still alive. AsODT acknowledges the family is well known in the Dunedin area. The community will know of the widow. The Council accepts that the widow will have been upset by this article particularly since there is no connection whatever between the granddaughter’s offending and her.

The Council sees no justification in this case for the family link to have been mentioned.

On the other hand it sees nothing justifying the complaint that the story was written as result of a vendetta on the journalist’s part.

The complaint is upheld by a majority 8:3.

Council members upholding the complaint were Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Hank Schouten and Christina Tay.

Council members dissenting from this decision were Sir John Hansen, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.