CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY OF NEW ZEALAND AGAINST NEW IDEA

Case Number: 2190

Council Meeting: JULY 2011

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Idea

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Bias
Accuracy
Misleading
Unfair Coverage

The Church of Scientology has complained about two articles in New Idea concerning husband-and-wife actors Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise and the Church.
The complaints are not upheld.



Background
On January 31, 2011, New Idea published an article headed Katie Holmes: Science of Addiction, which reported how there were concerns over Ms Holmes’ health, mental state and appearance. It said former scientologists claimed she was being given therapy via devices called e-meters that can cause addictive highs.
The article quoted another report in Star magazine and two former scientologists who said that e-meters were regularly used in auditing or counselling. One of them claimed his e-meter experience was like taking drugs.
An “insider” was quoted as saying that Cruise was encouraging his wife to turn more to Scientology for more “auditing” when times were tough.
On February 21, 2011, New Idea published another article headed Tom’s Shock at FBI Probe: Scientology in Crisis. The article quoted from the New Yorker magazine which claimed Cruise was reeling after a report that the church was allegedly involved in human trafficking, violent treatment and “slave” labour.
The article, under the tagline of Investigative Report, went on to quote former scientologists and others about various activities within the church.
It also quoted responses from the church and the actor’s lawyers denying the allegations.



The Complaints
Mike Ferriss, secretary of the church in New Zealand, complained in a letter dated February 4 to the editor of New Idea that the January 31 article contained falsehoods and misleading statements about Scientology. It was also deliberately biased and was therefore unfair and lacked balance.
He also complained that the magazine did not seek comment from the church, and that the former members’ comments were “entirely false” and derogatory.
In another letter dated February 16 about the Scientology in Crisis article, Mr Ferriss said that article also contained “falsehoods, inaccuracies, speculation and misleading headlines.”
Mr Ferriss disputed many of the claims in the article and said New Idea staff had not approached the Church, in New Zealand or overseas, for comment or to check the veracity of the allegations.



The Response
In a response to Mr Ferriss dated April 13, New Idea editor Hayley McLarin said the Science of Addiction article was published in good faith from overseas sources which she had no reason to doubt.
She did not accept the magazine was obliged to seek comment from the church in New Zealand, or that the story was misleading.
The editor similarly defended the Scientology in Crisis article, and said that the allegations of the former members had been expressly referred to as accusations and were not presented as necessarily being the truth.
“To the extent that the story can be said to be speculative and sensationalist, that reflects the fact that it was published in a women’s magazine focused on celebrity gossip and entertainment, not a serious news journal, and readers will read it with that in mind,” the editor said.



Discussion
While both articles fall within the gossip genre in terms of presentation, they are different in terms of their content. The first article lacks the quite extensive quotes from named people contained in the second, which even quotes a representative of the church and Tom Cruise’s lawyers.
The first article quotes people named in other articles and resorts to an unnamed “insider” and “sources.” To that extent, the second article contains some balance and journalistic endeavour.
But neither article, as the editor seems to say, is serious journalism and readers are unlikely to take them seriously. Further, the articles complained of are stacked with conditions which indicate the allegations are unproven.
Church members understandably resent seeing their beliefs or practices besmirched in a gossip magazine more interested in its celebrity members than the Church itself, but that is the nature of the genre where even editors seem to concede their readers do not expect serious journalism.
Gossip by its very nature has a much lower threshold of credibility and, providing articles are displayed as such, the Press Council recognises that strictly applying its principles to such articles is difficult when details are often speculative and conditional.
The Press Council has said previously there is no obligation in cases like this involving celebrities and organisations outside New Zealand, and where the story is written by an overseas writer, to require a publication to seek comment from a New Zealand representative. That remains the case in both articles complained of.



Decision



The complaints are not upheld.



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