FRANK ZWITSER AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2480

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2015

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Children and Young People
Comment and Fact
Court Reporting
Discrimination
Privacy
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Frank Zwitser claims a New Zealand Herald court report about the alleged abuse of a boy breaches Press Council principles 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7.

The complaint is not upheld.

Background

The Herald reported, over several days, a Manukau District Court case where a 30-year-old female social worker was charged with unlawful sexual connection with a 15-year-old boy she was mentoring.

The Complaint

The complainant claimed sexual discrimination and insensitivity in the reporting, going as far as saying theHerald ‘slut shamed’ the teen by quoting evidence of the length of time his sexual encounter lasted.

A headline on an October 21 report of the proceedings - Teen ‘lied’ about sex with mentor - was a concern to the complainant, as was reporting of evidence the teen told a friend he’d lied. This was considered victim blaming.

Sexual abuse of men was as serious an issue as it was for women, yet the Herald’s coverage of the case was contributing to a “culture of misandry” which was directly linked to a higher male suicide rates.

Fundamentally, the complainant felt the story was handled differently because the teenager was a boy.

The Response

The complaint was dealt with by Matthew Backhouse, a filing editor for NZME.’s news service.

The editor stood by the story, which was a report of court proceedings.

Fairness, accuracy and balance in court reporting was achieved across the totality of proceedings.

Everything reported was said in open court and it was important to cover the defence evidence that the teen had lied.

The editor rejected any suggestion of insensitivity or gender discrimination.

The Decision

There is nothing to suggest the Herald covered this particular case any differently than it would have had the alleged victim been female.

The Herald would be remiss not to report defence arguments, having already reported the prosecution's.

The headline accurately represented the angle of the story, which on that day was based on defence evidence. Although it could have, perhaps, referenced the fact the statement was a claim made in court by defence, it is not a requirement and nor is it enough in itself to breach any of the Press Council’s principles cited.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Sandy Gill, Peter Fa’afiu, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.

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