JAYNE ROUTHAN AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2420

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2015

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

Jayne Routhan (the complainant) complained about an article published in The Dominion Post on September 27, 2014.

She 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 “Ministry ‘couldn’t have halted Ashburton killings’”. The report covered a report released by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) following the fatal shooting of two employees in Ashburton earlier that month at the MSD office.

The article outlined the findings of an independent report commissioned by MSD to look at what, if anything, could have been done by MSD that might have prevented the tragedy. The report did not identify anything that could have prevented it but made recommendations for future consideration.

Complaint
The complainant said that the article was unbalanced as it did not contain information as to why the person who carried out the shootings had acted in this way and she felt this gave an inaccurate picture to the reader and created discrimination.

The article would have been more balanced if it had included a more accurate picture that included an overview of what people who suffer from health and mental health issues have to cope with from government and community agencies. That would have given the reader a more accurate picture of why a person might feel driven to act in a way they would not normally act.

She did not condone the Ashburton shootings but believed that the reader needed to know how people with health and mental health issues were being treated to avoid creating further discriminatory images of people with health and mental health issues.

The complainant, who is a long term protester against what she terms unjust and unfair treatment of people with health and mental health issues, has also complained that the newspaper does not publish coverage of her protests and the information she provides to the public regarding discrimination and unjust treatment of people with disabilities.

The complainant also alleges that the newspaper ignored her initial complaint and it took repeated attempts to get the complaint even acknowledged.

The Newspaper’s Response
In reply to the complaint, the editor said the article was clearly coverage of the MSD report and accurately published the findings of that report.

The newspaper was not able to make any comment on the shootings as it was now governed by sub-judice provisions preventing the media from any speculation on possible causes, to ensure a fair trial for the person.

That the newspaper did not respond to what the complainant called the initial complaint, was because the complaint was not actually specific or detail what Press Council principles had been breached.

The editor also said that staff had been instructed by her not to deal directly with the complainant as the complainant had been repeatedly insulting and abusive to newspaper staff.

She stated that the newspaper “was not interested” in discussing the complainant’s personal situation which is entirely irrelevant to the Ashburton case which is currently before the court.

The editor ended the letter with direct comments about the complainant and informing her that the newspaper office had “moved buildings” since her last protest activities.

Discussion and Decision
The article outlined the findings of an independent report commissioned by MSD following a shooting at the Ashburton office. Following the shootings, an arrest was made and the matter is now before the courts.

The article did not look at reasons that created the shootings but focused on what might have prevented the action from occurring and what could help prevent any risk to staff safety in the future. It did not breach Principle 1 or Principle 6.

While the complainant has a viewpoint on the possible causes of such a situation, the newspaper is correct in stating that it cannot comment on possible causes while the case is before the court.

Likewise, while the complainant has a viewpoint as to what people who suffer from health and mental health issues have to cope with from government and community agencies and how they are treated, the newspaper is not obliged to print her views.

The content of a newspaper is decided by the individual newspaper and is not subject to Press Council direction as long as it complies with the Press Council Principles.

The right to express an opinion and have a viewpoint, whether we agree with such a viewpoint, is the same for both a newspaper and a complainant.

Three members of the Press Council were surprised by the tone of the letter sent by the editor to the complainant. It was a little terse and impolite. While a complainant’s behaviour may be seen as unpleasant and or abusive, it is important to remember that complainants should still be treated with courtesy and when replying to a complaint it is important to reply in a manner that is both professional and courteous.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Chris Darlow, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.