COMPLAINT AGAINST ROTORUA DAILY POST

Case Number: 2467

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2015

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Daily Post

Ruling Categories: Photographs
Privacy

Overview

A woman who was the subject of a story on prostitution published in the Rotorua Daily Poston August 15, 2015 complained that the newspaper breached Press Council Principles 2 Privacy, and 11 Photographs and Graphics.

Background

On August 15, the Rotorua Daily Post published an article entitled “Oldest profession alive and well”, in which three women were interviewed about prostitution. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant. Her face was obscured by her hair, but tattoos on her arms were clearly visible.

The Complaint

 

The complainant took issue with both the lack of copy approval and the image which accompanied the story; however the Press Council principles she cited relate specifically to the photograph.

With regard to copy approval, the complainant said that no attempt was made by the reporter to confirm her quotes. She said she had clearly indicated to the reporter in their initial off-the-record conversation that she wished to review a draft copy of the interview before it was published.

She complained that had she been afforded the opportunity to review her comments she may have requested that certain comments be excluded or modified.

She conceded that the published quotes were an accurate reflection of her comments.

On the matter of the photograph, the complainant said the reporter had assured her that the photograph would show her only in silhouette and that no distinguishing features would be revealed.

She said that assurance was a vital factor in her decision to proceed with the interview and photograph.

She complained that the photo which appeared clearly showed her “tattooed arms and dyed, styled hair”.

She had agreed that the photos she was shown by the photographer were of good technical quality; she disagreed that this could have been construed as her agreeing to their publication in such a form (ie, minus silhouette or possible cropping).

She complained that the photograph that appeared had compromised her privacy which was an essential element of her trade.

The Response

 

The editor of the Rotorua Daily Post, Scott Inglis, said the woman approached the newspaper on June 24 after being referred by another sex worker for a story it was planning on the city’s sex industry.

In an initial-off-the-record conversation the reporter said she would be happy to show the woman her comments before publication, but at no time did the complainant indicate during that conversation that this was what she wanted.

The article was subsequently delayed until August. When the reporter contacted the complainant again, she asked if she would be willing to be photographed, and mentioned a silhouette photo that would not show any identifying features.

On the day of the interview, the photographer explained what sort of photo he was after; the complainant raised no objection. He showed her versions of the photo on his camera and she indicated she was fine with them.

The reporter and photographer maintained they were both satisfied at the time that the woman understood the photos she had been shown could be published, and they had her blessing. They were under the clear impression that when the complainant saw the photo on the back of the camera, this superseded any earlier discussion regarding a silhouette.

On the day of the interview the complainant did not ask to see her comments before publication.

The editor pointed out that the complainant had said the article was accurate.

He said the reporter and photographer were adamant they dealt with the complainant in good faith.

The Decision

 

The matter of copy approval is vexed one for editors because giving interview subjects the opportunity to check their quotes for factual accuracy is often misconstrued as an invitation for them to change their minds about comments made, even if they have been reported correctly. That said, however, many subjects will only agree to be interviewed and/or photographed if they can have that approval, as appears to have been the case here.

The complainant is adamant that in the setting up of the interview and photoshoot, she was offered the opportunity to check her comments, and was assured that the photograph would be a silhouette which did not reveal her identity.

The newspaper argues that she did not mention seeing her quotes on the day of the interview, that she conceded the interview was accurately reported, and that her viewing the image on the camera was believed to have superseded the agreement to publish only a silhouette.

It is easy to see how the reporter and photographer could have believed they had dealt with the woman in good faith, and that she could have and probably should have made her feelings clear on the day of the interview. This presupposes however, that she had an understanding of editorial processes and deadlines. She clearly assumed she would be given time to reflect on her comments and have the opportunity to change them if she so desired. It is also reasonable to infer that while the complainant did not object to the photographs she was shown, she may have expected the image to have been processed in such a way as to show her only in silhouette, as she had been promised.

The newspaper does not dispute the fact that in initial conversations, the complainant was offered copy approval, and was promised that the image would not reveal her identity. No matter what happened or was said on the day of the interview and photoshoot, it was its responsibility to follow through on both of those assurances and clarify the situation for the complainant. It did not.

The complaint is upheld.

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