Case Number: 791

Council Meeting: July 2000

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Evening Post

Ruling Categories: Privacy

A complaint against the Evening Post over its handling of articles on the birth of a baby, both of whose parents were killers, has not been upheld by the New Zealand Press Council.

Ms Frances Acey complained about the articles which appeared in the editions on 1 and 2 April. The first article was headlined "Baby Born to Violent Killers." The first paragraph read: "A two-month old baby, born in Wellington this year, has two violent killers as parents." The article said the baby was born to a woman who had pleaded guilty to infanticide in 1997 and a man who had been found not guilty of murder on the grounds of insanity in a killing in 1992

The second article headlined "Killer's baby Sparks Probe" was a follow-up indicating that Capital Coast Health was investigating the situation referred to in the initial article. Both articles named the parents and referred to the baby being born in February and having been put in the care of the child's aunt in Rotorua.

Ms Acey complained that the word "baby" should not have been used in the headlines. She maintained that the focal point of the headlines should have been the issue of failure in the custodial care of the offenders. She said the issue of this failure was the focal point of the bulk of the first article and that the headline referred to the baby which was not the most important point to be made from the story. Ms Acey was concerned that details of the baby's age, sex and location were unnecessary in relation to the story about his parents, and could open the child and his care-givers, to public scrutiny and possible harassment. In a further letter to the Press Council she complained the articles showed disregard for the baby's need for privacy. She did not take issue with the reporting of the fact that a baby had been conceived by two people responsible for violent deaths.

In response the Evening Post said the headlines were accurate and further that the information about the baby carried in the body of the article was accurate. Furthermore the Commissioner for Children had already expressed concern that the mother had continued to be able to give birth, despite her history. The baby was the central point of the story and without reference to him the story could not have been covered satisfactorily.

The editor maintained that the information did not identify the baby to anybody, to whom his identity was not already known. It was a matter for public interest that two people responsible for killings, should have formed a relationship and conceived a child, especially when one of them was in the care of the mental health system at the time.

The editor submitted that the welfare of the baby, as well as the circumstances in which he was conceived were issues of public interest.

There is much current concern about the mental health system, and also about the welfare of children. The conception and birth of the child was an integral part of the story and it would have been rendered nonsensical to have run it without mention of the child's birth. Great care must be taken not to exploit an individual's situation for newspaper sensationalism and particular care should be taken in a matter as sensitive as this complaint.

The Council notes that Ms Acey does not appear to have any involvement with any of the parties and further notes that none of the parties directly affected have complained. Ms Acey's genuine concern for the baby is undoubted.

The Press Council finds that the Evening Post acted responsibly in publishing both articles. The right of the public to know this information needs to be balanced against the rights of individuals to privacy. In this case the individual's privacy does not appear to have been breached in any material way. Details of the baby were sufficiently general to have not easily identified the child.

The complaint is not upheld.