DANIEL HANKS AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2461

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2015

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Discrimination

Overview

Daniel Hanks complained that a story and video headlined “Woman throws a 90-minute tantrum after being dumped by text” on Stuff NZ’s website breached Principle 4, Comment and Fact, and Principle 8, Discrimination and Diversity. The complaint is not upheld.

Background

On August 20, Stuff NZ ran a story on its website headlined ‘Woman throws 90-minute tantrum after being dumped by text’, which featured a video clip of a woman having an “epic meltdown” on a busy street in Hong Kong. The 150-word story, which quoted theMailOnline, briefly described the video, saying the woman “rolled around, kicked, stomped and shouted as bystanders tried to go about their day”. It showed people’s offers of help being rejected by the woman, who was eventually restrained by paramedics and taken away on a stretcher.

The article contained three links to other stories about relationship break-ups by text, and invited readers to share their worst break-up stories, photos and videos.

The article received a considerable number of comments from readers, mostly derogatory about the woman’s bizarre behaviour in a public place.

The Complaint

The Complaint

Mr Hanks complained that the framing of the article and use of the video risked stigmatising people suffering from mental illness, or those having a mental health episode.

He believed the value of the story was minimal, served no public purpose, and was manifestly out of proportion to the plight of the young woman.

He complained that the focus of the story seemed to be about little more than ridiculing a person having a distressing episode and objected to the use of the words “epic breakdown” and “threw a tantrum in the street”.

In the bigger picture, he said, the Stuff article had done harm to the issue of mental illness; it had put those who suffer from mental illness on notice that a public episode may result in their distress being broadcast publicly, further adding to their feelings of isolation and vulnerability and of being rejected by society.

He urged Stuff and other publications to play a more valuable role in developing the public’s understanding of mental illness.

In his response to the editor’s point that there was no evidence that the person was suffering from a mental health problem, Mr Hanks asserted that it was the duty of media organisations to ascertain with certainty that a person does not have a mental illness before deciding to publish.

He claimed the fact that the woman was not identified by Stuff was irrelevant as the issue was the perception of her mental condition, which he believed is what can perpetuate stereotypes and stigma.

The Response

The Response

The editor of Stuff.co.nz, Patrick Crewdson, denied that the story was framed as a mental health breakdown in action, and said it was “simply one person’s outsized reaction to a relationship breakdown”.

“It is not for us to speculate on the mental health of the woman,” he said.

He submitted that the story did not breach Principle 4, Comment and Fact, as there was no muddling of comment or opinion and factual information.

On principle 8, Discrimination and Diversity, the editor argued that it was not possible for Mr Hanks to allege that the article and video constituted discrimination against someone with a mental illness without any evidence that the subject of the story was actually suffering from a mental illness.The story did not place “gratuitous emphasis” on the woman’s mental health because it was not established that she has a mental health problem.

The woman was not identified in the story or in the video in which her face was blurred out.

There could not be any reasonable expectation of privacy for a 90-minute tantrum in one of the world’s largest and most densely populated cities, he said. The video, which from Stuff’s point of view came from a local Hong Kong TV network, not YouTube as the complainant believed, had been widely covered by international media.

He said the fact that the woman was dumped by text message fed in to ongoing discussion on Stuff about modern dating etiquette.

The Decision

Discussion and Decision

The bizarre “90-minute tantrum” which took place on a busy street in the Kowloon downtown district of Tsim Sha Tsui was picked up by several international media organisations, including Stuff.

The purpose in running it on Stuff was supposedly to feed in to an ongoing discussion about modern dating etiquette. The video’s actual newsworthiness and the somewhat voyeuristic nature of its content may be questionable, but no Press Council principles were breached: there was no evidence to suggest that she was suffering from a mental health problem, and she was not identified.

The use of sensationalist stories to sell newspapers and magazines is hardly new, and “click bait” whose sole purpose is to drive traffic to a website is now commonplace on the internet; this story is just one of many.

The complaint is not upheld.

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