CHERYL MEGCHELSE AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2485

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Offensive Language
Taste Lack of

Overview

Cheryl Megchelse (the complainant) complained about an article published in theNew Zealand Herald on October29, 2015.

She alleged that the article was objectionable because it used a word, both in the headline and the body of the article that showed a complete disregard for decency and good taste. She believed that the use of that word should never become acceptable in mainstream society in New Zealand.

The complaint is not upheld.

Background

The article was headed “Chris Cairns: “I don’t want to go into conspiracy theories ... I’m getting f***ed over””. The headline was taken from a comment made by Cairns also included in the body of the article.

The article covered comments made by Chris Cairns relating to his trial for perjury in the United Kingdom and his feelings about what was happening to him.

The Complaint

The complainant alleged that in her opinion the use of “f***ed” showed a complete disregard for decency and good taste and should not have been used at all.

She believed that the gradual increase in the use of that word by media, desensitised people to “it’s vulgarity, causing it to be more and more accepted as the “norm”” in today’s world.

She requested that the newspaper refrain from the use of what she described as obscenities to catch people’s attention and use the influence it had in a more responsible manner.

The Response

Murray Kirkness, the Weekday Editor, replied on behalf of the newspaper.

He stated that the newspaper did not use the word without a lot of prior thought. The article was one of many during the eight week trail of Mr Cairns.

It was felt that the newsworthiness of the quote over-rode concerns about the use of such language in both the headline and the article in that it portrayed exactly how Cairns was feeling about what was happening to him.

The quotes used in the article were taken directly from an interview with Cairns by Metropolitan Police, played in the Court, and an important part of the trial.

However, the newspaper did, as standard practice, recognise the concerns about good taste and other sensitivities by the use of asterisks.

The newspaper had also invited the complainant to make her views known by submitting a comment or letter for consideration for publication.

The Decision

Press Council has previously noted that it does not set itself up as an arbiter of taste or of what meets or does not meet ever-changing and evolving notions of decency and acceptability in the public discourse. There are lines which should not be crossed. But it is the prerogative of editors to make judgments on such matters, in the interest of their newspaper.

While the use of the word is objectionable to many, the newspaper did use asterisks to show that the word was not one used as a matter of course in everyday life. But it is also a word used by many in everyday life regardless of the rights or wrongs of such use.

The article was clearly part of ongoing coverage of the Cairns trial and the headline and comment were taken directly from comments made by Cairns himself.

While the use of that word in the headline and article may be upsetting for some, its use conveyed the deep emotions felt by Cairns at that time.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.