JO LIN CHIA AGAINST HERALD ON SUNDAY

Case Number: 2216

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2011

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Herald On Sunday

Ruling Categories: Privacy
Confidentiality
Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

A complaint by Jo Lin Chia against Herald on Sunday has not been upheld.

Background
Dr Chia, a veterinarian, was an observer of a fatal car accident in Auckland.
On August 28 the Herald on Sunday reported on the accident, citing comment from Dr Chia. Its reporter had visited the veterinary clinic to interview her, but never asked her name and referred to her as “Doctor” throughout the brief interview.
Dr Chia was upset that the paper printed her name without having asked if it had permission to do so, and further claimed that the quote attributed to her “was not how I speak and not what I said”. She was very concerned because the statement could have “serious implications in relation to the guilt or innocence of the driver”.
Complaining to the paper about both those issues, Dr Chia was informed by the editor that permission to print her name was not required. Further, that the reporter’s notes contained exactly the quote printed, and the paper stood by it. However, the editor offered to have the part of the article referring to Dr Chia removed from the paper’s website, and this occurred.

The Complaint
Dissatisfied with the editor’s response, Dr Chia laid a complaint with the Press Council on 1 September. She stated that her name and occupation had been printed without her permission. She also complained that ‘brief notes’ were taken by the reporter during the interview, and the language style and terminology attributed to her in the article were not hers. She disputed the accuracy of the quoted comments.
Dr Chia cited principles of Accuracy, fairness and balance; Privacy; and Confidentiality in her complaint.

The Newspaper’s Response
The editor advised staff at the clinic had given the reporter ‘Jo Lin Chia’s card’, that the reporter had introduced herself as a Herald on Sunday reporter, and took notes during what she said was barely a couple of minutes’ conversation. A request for a photograph was denied.
The quote situation, according to the editor, is a ‘he said, she said’ situation as he had perused the reporter’s shorthand notebook and both the reporter and the editor stood by her accuracy.
The privacy part of the complaint was not accepted as the editor claimed this was a significant matter of public record or interest. A man had died in a road crash and this was the most significant breaking news of the day, with high public interest. The reporter and photographer had conducted themselves appropriately and without any subterfuge.
The editor, noting Dr Chia’s distress, did offer to take the paragraph down from the website as a way of showing sympathy (but not admitting error).

Further responses
Provided with the editor’s response, Dr Chia stated that she does not have a personalised business card; that she would have refused to be named had she been asked, as the publication of her name and occupation added nothing to the story and “potentially made me a target for people upset at what was published”; and that the victim’s family had visited the clinic wanting more information. She now felt ‘less secure’ and was still offended about the claimed misquoting.
The editor, responding to Dr Chia’s last comments, said that the photographer was handed a piece of paper or a card with Dr Chia’s name on it, which is why she didn’t ask for the name. They stood 100% behind the quote. And despite Dr Chia’s feelings on the issue Herald on Sunday’s practice is to ‘fess up to our errors’ and put things right when it knows it has erred.

Discussion
This has obviously been a very upsetting situation for Dr Chia, both having observed the accident in the first place, and then subsequently finding herself identified in an article when she was unaware that her identity would be made public.
It was doubly upsetting for her that she felt the statement attributed to her was not expressed in words that she would have used, and she also contested its accuracy.
The Council is not in a position to determine whether the quote attributed to Dr Chia was factually incorrect or whether it had been expressed in language that she would not have used. As the editor pointed out, it is a ‘he said, she said’ situation.
In situations such as this, with high public interest, it is normal practice for papers to name people who were witnesses or involved in such situations, unless it has reason to believe harm may come to them as a consequence. The complainant was interviewed by a journalist and did not request anonymity.
The paper had taken what it considered to be appropriate action to address Dr Chia’s distress by removing the contentious paragraph from its online site.

Conclusion
The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.