CHAZ FORSYTH AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2556

Council Meeting: JANUARY 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Privacy

Overview

Chaz Forsyth says that an article published on the Stuff website (Stuff) breached principles of privacy, although the specific principle is not referred to.

The Article

The article on Stuff relates to a burglary during which a large number of military-style, high powered, semi-auto firearms and significant amounts of ammunition had been stolen. The article states this happened at an address in Maitland Street, and adds that there were a total of 28 firearms taken. The article continues that the owner was a licensed holder of the firearms, which were securely stored. There is a Google map identifying the general area, and there is a plea in the article that the police would like to hear from anyone who has information relevant to the investigation, which would include vehicle sightings, or people attempting to hide, trade or sell weapons. Contact details are then given.

The Complaint

The complainant initially complained to the Broadcasting Standards Association, presumably to do with an on-air presentation of similar news. In his complaint to the editor of theStuff news site, he states:

I believe that your desire to serve the public interest, is in conflict with the rights and responsibility of licensed law abiding firearms owners and you have betrayed the responsibility of a licensed firearm owner by publicising his own location. I wonder how you can justify the mapping and location of the property of the victim of crime when images of the house concerned may provide clues to its location, making this firearm owner a potential target for further burglaries.

He goes on in his final response that, although he accepted Dunedin was a small town, he remained uncomfortable despite the explanation fromStuff.

The Response

The responsible Deputy Editor Otago Southland, Kamala Hayman, points out that the article was based entirely on a police press release. She notes that the police were seeking the public’s assistance in recovering the firearms or identifying the offenders. She pointed to Principle 2 dealing with privacy, and accepted there needed to be a balance between the right to privacy and the public interest.

She pointed to the fact that the Google map embedded in the story identified Maitland Street, which was named in the police media release, but did not identify the specific property. Secondly, she noted the photograph published with the story shows a police car parked in Maitland Street, but this was not outside the house where the burglary took place, nor was that house visible in the photograph. She considered in those circumstances there was no breach of privacy. Finally, she went on to say that there was a strong public interest in identifying the street in order to support the police in finding potential witnesses.

The Decision

Where relevant, Principle 2 dealing with privacy reads:

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.

In this instance we not consider there has been any breach of this principle. A significant number of highly dangerous weapons had been stolen in a break-in, and it was a matter of significant public importance and interest that these be recovered as quickly as possible, and the offenders identified and apprehended. In addition once the Police issued their Press Release the information contained in it was in the public domain. The article complained of does not go further than the information contained in that Press Release.

In this instance, the public interest outweighs any privacy considerations, and it was, in our view, the responsibility of the publication to follow through on the police media release to give it as wide a dissemination as possible.

In any event, the exact location was not identified in the article, or in the accompanying maps or photographs. However, although a photo shows a police car in a public street (Maitland Street) it also shows a house. Good practice would have been to point out in the caption that the house was unconnected to the theft of the firearms and ammunition.

There is nothing to indicate the complainant is in some way connected with the owner of the firearms, so we take it the complaint is one from a concerned citizen. While we note that concern, we have no doubt that privacy has not been breached, and the public interest has been best served by the responsible approach of Stuff.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Ruth Buddicom, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.