DONNA VITASOVICH AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2413

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2014

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Balance, Lack Of
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
Accuracy
Sensationalism
Unfair Coverage
Conflict of Interest

The Complaint
Donna Vitasovich’s complaint related to a story published on nzherald online on October 3, 2014 on the government’s proposed Research and Development grants. The complainant was dissatisfied with the general standard of the reporting but her particular complaint focused on the use of the word ‘shitty’ (a direct quote from Sam Morgan) which she claimed, by placing sensation over proper analysis, showed no regard for the reader’s expectation of good journalism. The Council Principles she cited were 1. Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; 6. Discrimination and Diversity; 8. Subterfuge; and 9. Conflicts of Interest.

The Editor’s Response
The editor did not agree with the complaint, arguing that using the word in a direct quote, when Sam Morgan had clearly chosen it carefully for emphasis and effect, was not the same as a journalist simply using it as part of a story. ‘The New Zealand Herald’, the editor wrote, ‘does not use swear words lightly. Where a word is pertinent to the context of a story it is used’. He went on to suggest that the word is in fairly common usage in New Zealand and the reporter’s use of it added a colloquial emphasis to the discussion of the R and D proposals.

The Discussion and Decision
The Council found it difficult to link the complaint with the principles cited. If the Council was right in seeing the nub of the complaint as being the complainant’s belief that the use of the word shitty was incompatible with good journalism, it was not inclined to agree. It accepted the editor’s argument that the direct quote captured the tone of Morgan’s comments and that this was a valid part of the story. Nor is the word offensive enough to most readers to unbalance or detract from the general sense of the story.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Chris Darlow (Acting Chair), Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.

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