BARNABY SHIELS-REDDIN AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2177

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2011

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Headlines and Captions
Tragedies, Offensive Handling of
Sensationalism

Barnaby Shiels-Reddin complained about the headline to a story posted on the Fairfax website, Stuff. His complaint is not upheld.

Background
On Monday 22 November, the website posted a story, received via the Reuters news agency, about the rescue of 29 Chinese coal miners.
The report was headed Trapped 29 rescued from coal mine – in China.
At the time, 29 miners were missing after an explosion in the Pike River mine on the West Coast and many readers would have been anxious to hear how rescue attempts there were faring.
The report about the rescue in China ran directly beneath the lead story on the unfolding Pike River drama.

The Complaint
Mr Shiels-Reddin explained that he subscribed to an RSS feed from the Stuff website.
This particular one line feed disturbed him because he felt it was designed simply to attract attention and to drive traffic to the Stuff website.
Given that so many New Zealanders were waiting and desperately hoping for a positive outcome for the 29 miners in the Pike River mine, he thought Stuff’s headline was “sensationalist” as well as offensive.
He had no complaint with the report itself, he was concerned only about the RSS feed headline/subject line.

The Response
The Fairfax manager of the website, Sinead Boucher, stressed that the headline was not intended to offend, only to summarise that there a parallel drama was taking place in China, with the same number of coal miners.
She also pointed out that the word China in the headline made it clear that the report was not about Pike River. The headline made a link between the two stories but also explained that the rescue was taking place in a different country.

Decision
The Press Council notes the complainant’s suggestion that the feed could have been “Chinese miners rescued” with no mention of the number 29 that he found so offensive.
However, given these two parallel stories, in close proximity in time as well as on the homepage, it was reasonable and justifiable to make a clear link between the two situations in the feedline – while also noting that the event was in another country.
Further, there is no doubt that the headline accurately and fairly conveyed the substance of the report.

The complaint is not upheld
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.