JAMES RUSSELL AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2474

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2015

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Discrimination
False Accusation
Headlines and Captions
Unfair Coverage

Overview

James Russell (the complainant) complained about an article published on the Stuff news website September 11, 2015.

He said that the article breached Principles 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) and 6 (Discrimination and Diversity) of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

The complaint is not upheld.

Background

The article was headed “Religious tolerance concert banned from Nelson Cathedral due to Islamic content.”. A lead in to the article in the headlines on the Stuff home page, was “Church doesn’t tolerate Islam” along with an explanation sentence stating that “A concert for religious tolerance has been banned from Nelson Cathedral because it includes an Islamic call to prayer”.

The report covered a proposed concert by the Nelson Civic Choir (the Choir) of The Armed Man. The choir had applied to perform the concert in Christ Church Cathedral where it had previously been performed in 2007 but their application was declined by the current Dean as he felt it did not reflect the Cathedral’s values under his leadership.

The article provided a number of views of the ensuing debate from both sides.

The Complaint

The complainant said that the article was unbalanced and inaccurate in stating that the Church was intolerant of Islam and criticised Christians who affirm biblical beliefs. He went on to state that in his view both the lead-in headline and the article itself imply that the Church does not allow Islam to be practiced which is incorrect.

He states that the article paints Christians as intolerant bigots when in fact the Dean had a right to his belief that allowing the concert to take place in the Cathedral would be compromising biblical beliefs. The Cathedral is a private place of Christian worship and Islam, which is not a Christian religion, does not fit with the biblical beliefs of the Cathedral and those who worship there.

He believed that in publishing the article with that headline, the “journalist (and editors who approve it) were themselves being intolerant of Christian beliefs”.

He requested that Stuff publish an apology to the Dean and a more accurate article based on his submissions to them which they declined to do.

The Response

In reply to the complaint, the editor said the article was clearly coverage of the fact that the Dean had declined an application to hold the concert, The Armed Man, at the Cathedral and covered a wide range of views.

The article did not label the Dean personally as intolerant, but says “Church doesn’t tolerate Islam” which reflected the fact that the application to perform the play at the Cathedral had been declined because it contained Islamic content.

Based on the facts of the story, that the performance would not be hosted at the Church because it contained Islamic content, both the headline and the story are accurate.

Balance was achieved within the article by providing diverse views canvassed in some depth and also by allowing the Dean a substantial right of reply

The Decision

The article outlined the fact that the Dean of Nelson Christ Church Cathedral had declined permission for the Choir to perform The Armed Man, at the Cathedral, and that he declined the application specifically because the play contained Islamic content which the Dean felt did not fit with the Cathedral’s religious beliefs.

The article contained diverse points of view and extensive comment from the Dean which created fairness and balance. Accuracy was provided by allowing the Dean right of reply and the use of direct quotes from all those interviewed.

Had the initial home-page headline “Church does not tolerate Islam” appeared in isolation, the Council may have had some concern.However it was immediately followed by the sentence “A concert for religious tolerance has been banned from Nelson Cathedral because it includes an Islam call to prayer” which gave context to the statement. The headline to the main article “Religious tolerance concert banned from Nelson Cathedral due to Islamic content” related directly to information contained in the article.

The article did not in any way promote nor call for discrimination against Christians. It covered events that unfolded and comments from those involved.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Mark Stevens, and Tim Watkin.