GRACE HADEN AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2583

Council Meeting: JUNE 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Comment and Fact
Confidentiality
Conflict of Interest
Court Reporting
Defamation/Damaging To Reputation
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Headlines and Captions
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
Photographs
Privacy

Overview

Grace Haden, a former police prosecutor, has been declined a licence to work as a private investigator.The Dominion Post and Stuff carried a report of her appeal to the Napier District Court against the decision of the Private Security Personnel Licensing Authority.

Ms Haden complained that the report is unbalanced and uses selective quotes to denigrate her. She listed five matters of concern to her. They will be summarised here along with responses from the Chief News Director for Stuff andThe Dominion Post, Eric Janssen, where required, followed by the Press Council’s decisions.

The Complaint

1. The report included a quote from a police file the complainant had not been shown in full, despite her request for it, and the damaging comment about her was made by a police woman who had never met her.

Mr Janssen said the quotes used did not come from a police file but from a court judgment in a defamation action against her in 2008.

The Press Council notes Ms Haden’s opinion that the comments about her were unfounded and the Police’s refusal to supply her with the complete file has limited her ability to challenge them, but the comments were made and the news report is entitled to refer to them, as they are on the public record.

2. Ms Haden said the 2008 defamation action involved serious public corruption and she was denied a defence of truth and honest opinion.

The Council notes those are her views of the 2008 case, the details of which are outside the scope of the news report at issue in this complaint.

3, Ms Haden enlarged on her view of the defamation case, which is outside the scope of the story at issue.

4. The complainant said she has been unfairly labelled a conspiracy theorist. She did not subscribe to a conspiracy theory, did not use the word conspiracy and would like someone to identify the conspiracy theory.

Mr Janssen responded that she was described as a conspiracy theorist in the Licensing Authority’s decision and similarly described in the 2008 court decision. He pointed out that she had made claims in this complaint, about the reporter involved, that supported the description.

The Press Council is not able to rule on whether she is prone to imagine unlikely conspiracies but finds the story accurate as a report that she has been characterised by others in this way.

5. She repeated her view that she was taken to court for speaking the truth about corruption and had been under personal attack for doing so ever since. This view is a background to her complaint rather than an issue on which the Press Council can rule.

Ms Haden then formalised her complaint under nine Press Council principles:

1. Accuracy, fairness and balance. She asked, was it fair to label a person in 2017 on the basis of a person’s opinion in 2012, especially when it was an unsubstantiated opinion and the Licensing Authority’s decision was under appeal. She questioned howThe Dominion Post’s reporter obtained the Authority’s decision and believes he had been sent to cover her appeal to the District Court “with the intention of denigrating me..... probably with the article substantially written.”

Mr Janssen explained that the article made it clear the opinion of her that was quoted was an opinion. The Authority’s decision was not subject to a non-publication order. A copy of the Authority’s decision was supplied to the reporter by the Ministry of Justice on request, before the appeal hearing. The newspaper report was written after the hearing.

The Council finds the complainant has identified no factual inaccuracies in the reporting. This was a report of a court hearing. News reports of court proceedings are not permitted to include material that is not part of the proceedings. If this material was unfair or unbalanced in the complainant’s view, it was not the fault of the newspaper. There was nothing unfair in the way the Licensing Authority’s decision was obtained or in the motives of the reporter and the newspaper.

2. Privacy. Under this Principle the complainant recorded the police’s refusal to give her a file that was not redacted and her inability, therefore, to seek corrections under the Privacy Act.

Mr Janssen points out newspapers are not subject to the Privacy Act and in any case, the opinions given of her were not a private matter.

The Press Council agrees. The opinions given, right or wrong, were a matter of public interest in an application for a licence to practice as a hired investigator.

3. Comment and Fact. It was not a fact that she was a conspiracy theorist, it was somebody’s opinion. Mr Janssen says this was clear in the article and the Press Council agrees.

4. Headlines and Captions. The headline read: “Private investigator labelled a conspiracy theorist fights loss of licence”. Ms Haden says she was not fighting the loss of her licence, she was fighting “the declinature of the renewal of my certificate of approval”. The Council finds the headline accurate and a fair summary of the story.

5. Confidentiality. Ms Haden repeats her concern about the police file she was not allowed to see except in redacted form. If this was so confidential, she asks, why was it published on the web. Mr Janssen says no non-publication order was placed on this material by the court. The Council can find no breach of any undertakings of confidentiality by the newspaper in this case.

6. Subterfuge. Ms Haden asks how the reporter obtained a copy of the Authority’s decision. She had been assured the reporter was not shown the court file. Mr Janssen repeats his explanation that the decision was supplied by the Ministry of Justice on request. The Press Council can see no subterfuge involved.

7. Conflicts of Interest. Ms Haden says, “The fact he (the reporter) was sent to do a number on me is in my opinion a conflict of interest.” This, even if it was true, is not a conflict of interest in the Council’s opinion. The complainant cites no personal interest the reporter may have had in the story or any other interest of the newspaper other than to publish a story of public interest.

8. Photographs and Graphics. Ms Haden complains that a photo of her accompanying the story was unflattering. The reporter could have asked her for a better one. Mr Janssen suggests this is not a ground of complaint and he is right. He has invited Ms Haden to send The Dominion Post one that she prefers.

9. Corrections. The newspaper failed to publish a correction she requested. Mr Janssen says it had no need to, nor was it prepared to amend or remove the article for the Stuff site. The Council finds no errors requiring correction.

It finds no grounds for this complaint. It is not upheld.

The Press Council considered this complaint in committee.

Sir John Hansen took no part in the consideration of the complaint.

The complaint was considered by Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Tim Watkin and John Roughan.