EILEEN SMITH AGAINST NZ HERALD (VIVA)

Case Number: 2408

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2014

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Nudity and Indecency
Photographs
Taste Lack of

Introduction
Eileen Smith claims the front cover of viva magazine (inserted into the New Zealand Herald newspaper) on May 28, featuring a semi-naked Virgin Mary, was out-of-context and insensitive to Catholics.
No specific Press Council principles were cited in the complaint, and nor were any breached.
The complaint is not upheld.

Background
viva is a newspaper inserted lifestyle magazine which is carried in the New Zealand Herald newspaper.
The viva cover in question used a supplied image to promote an article about a home and business promoting New Zealand-designed products in Paris, France. The image featured a painting above a table that had a camera and two religious figurines on it.
One of the figurines depicted the Virgin Mary, but naked from the waist down.

Complaint
Eileen Smith’s complaint raised the following issues:
The depiction of the Virgin Mary was used out-of-context and to sell newspapers.
Depicting the Virgin Mary in a semi-naked way was culturally insensitive to Mary and all Catholics.
The cover should never have been published and reflected poor editorial decision making.
viva singled out a sacred Christian icon for ridicule.
The depiction of Mary was in colour, on a front cover and of a size which made it stand out in contrast with other elements in the image.

Editor’s response
The response was provided by New Zealand Herald editor Shayne Currie.
The image, supplied from France, elegantly illustrated the Paris homeowner’s art collection.
It was not meant to cause offence, and Mr Currie was sorry if it did. But the figurine was art and, as such, could be confronting.
The piece of art in the photo was so small that the semi-naked detail, on an A3-sized cover, would have gone unnoticed by most readers.
Mr Currie went on to apologise for the newspaper failing to respond to Smith’s initial complaint and was to remind his staff of the importance of doing so.

Discussion
The image of the figurine was used in context alongside other art/items belonging to the homeowner.
It was a piece of art and, as the editor suggested, some readers may have found it confronting. Even if they did, being confronting is not in itself a breach of the Press Council’s principles.
Although not directly referenced, Principle 7 in the Press Council’s Statement of Principles says publications should not place gratuitous emphasis on religion in their reporting.
viva was not gratuitous in the emphasis it placed on the figurine in the cover image.
A piece of art, featured alongside other household items in the cover shot, was an entirely appropriate way to illustrate the home feature.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.
John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.