G Conway against Upper Hutt Leader

Case Number: 846

Council Meeting: November 2001

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Upper Hutt Leader

Ruling Categories: Nudity and Indecency
Taste Lack of

Grant Conway, an Upper Hutt counsellor, has complained about an Upper Hutt Leader court report of a case of indecencies involving horses.

No questions of legality or accuracy are at issue, rather the perceived moral dangers facing any young children who might read a report that is graphic in its descriptions.
According to Conway, reading sexually explicit material, just as being exposed to pornography, is "acknowledged to cause some degree" of emotional disturbance to young people.
Mr Conway attaches to his complaint, letters from colleagues at Presbyterian Support Services, notably one from Elizabeth Hamilton, who says that her 11-year-old son was drawn to the headline - "Man pleads guilty to horse indecencies" - sparking a discussion between them, "like I am sure, a number of parents".
Neither the heading nor the text is sensationalised, though the nature of the offending is clearly riveting enough to make any attempt at sensationalism needless, even should that have been the intent of a newspaper.

On her part the Upper Hutt Leader editor said the detail published was no more graphic than that published in other sex offence cases that had occurred in Upper Hutt. The judge had the right to suppress details, but had not considered it appropriate to do so.

She also said that there had been initial confusion about the nature of the charges, rendering the detail important in the interests of fairness and accuracy. Attempting to paraphrase the police summary, she said, could have resulted in accusations of sensationalism. She did not believe there was any reason to make an apology.

Reading of such an offence is bound to be distasteful to some people. The Upper Hutt Leader item included detail that may have been unnecessary to convey the extent of the offending. It did not help that the medium was a community newspaper, passed to local households at no cost.
At the same time, the importance of the racing industry to this community has to be acknowledged. The subject would have been of interest within that community.
There may in this case be a fine line between reporting the news and providing unwarranted detail to titillate, which the Upper Hutt Leader might in the future consider very carefully.

Ultimately, however, what is acceptable, comes down to a matter of taste. It is a judgement call of the editor as to how much detail is required.
The paper was entitled to carefully report what was revealed in an open court. The complaint is not upheld.

People with complaints against a newspaper should first complain in writing to the editor of the publication and then, if not satisfied with the response, complain to the Press Council. Complaints should be addressed to the Secretary, P O Box 10-879 The Terrace, Wellington. Tel 473 5220. Information on the Press Council is available on the internet at www.presscouncil.org.nz