Case Number: 1030

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2005

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Headlines and Captions

Jane Shaw has complained about an article in The Dominion Post of February 14. The report contained comments made by members of the Shaw family after Francis Shaw was found guilty of being party to the arson of the historic Rangiatea Church.
Ms Shaw is Mr Shaw’s sister and complains that comments made by her and her mother were taken out of context and are thus inaccurate. Ms Shaw says that the heading on the article, based on those comments, was inaccurate and provocative and further complains that the telephone interview of Mr Shaw’s mother was intrusive and obtained by subterfuge.
The Press Council does not uphold the complaints.

The burden of the inaccuracy complaint is that the comments by Peggy and Jane Shaw referred not specifically to the case but to Mr Shaw’s life long campaign for treaty based government. There is no suggestion that the remarks were reported incorrectly. The issue is one of context.
Ms Shaw raised the matter in telephone calls to the newspaper and was dissatisfied with the response. She wrote to The Dominion Post on April 19 detailing her complaints and informing the newspaper the matter would be pursued with the Press Council. The Dominion Post was slow to respond, not replying to Ms Shaw until May 23 by which time Ms Shaw had complained to the Press Council in a letter of May 18.
In his letter of May 23 to Ms Shaw the Editor of The Dominion Post, Mr Tim Pankhurst, says “the reporter did not see the response as a reference to Francis Shaw’s activities over 25 years.”
Given that the approach to the Shaw family closely followed the end of a high profile trial it seems a reasonable assumption that the reporter was seeking comment on the specific, rather than the general. The apparently determined efforts of the reporter to obtain the comments should have indicated to the family that she was pursuing a response to current events rather than historical activities.
In the circumstances it seems unrealistic to suggest that Peggy Shaw’s remarks “it’s not sad. He did for the social order of all Maoridom, not just himself.” should not have been taken to be a reference to the burning of the church or to Mrs Shaw’s feelings after her son had been found guilty. The subsequent comment “although he is not too happy about it…. he didn’t expect anything else” can only be taken to refer to the trial.
In later contacting Jane Shaw for her opinion, including her comments on the remarks made by her mother, The Dominion Post was providing an opportunity in which it might have been explained that the remarks were historic rather than specific. This seems not to have happened.
On the issue of privacy it is clear that the Shaw family expressed a preference for Jane Shaw to be their spokesperson. But there is no evidence of subterfuge. No physical approaches were made. Peggy Shaw’s reported comments, the accuracy of which is not challenged, are lucid and give no indication that she was not capable of terminating the conversation had she wished.
It is suggested by the complainant that because Peggy Shaw did not give her name she did not think her comments would be published. But her actual identity was clear and the occasion for contacting her was unmistakable.
When Jane Shaw’s brother explained that Peggy Shaw was unwell it seems no further attempts were made to contact her and the next call was to Jane Shaw when Peggy Shaw’s comments were put to her.
The complainant objects the headline was provocative. The case is one that obviously has the potential to raise high feelings in the community but the headline accurately reflects the substance of the report.
Jane Shaw further raises the question of public interest and public record, implying that the court hearing was the proper source of information. It is, however, legitimate and routine reporting to obtain comment and background to a case, particularly one as high profile as this, and The Dominion Post was not acting improperly in pursuing this.
Finally Jane Shaw says she sought and was denied a correction. That this request was made is in dispute and in any event, given that the newspaper was standing by its reporting it is difficult to see what form any correction could have taken.
As the complainant points out, the incidents are the result of a complex and difficult set of circumstances in a tightly knit community but The Dominion Post reporting in this instance is not inflammatory.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Puata, Lynn Scott, Alan Samson, Murray Williams, Denis McLean, Clive Lind, Terry Snow and John Gardner.