KATHLEEN LAUDERDALE AGANST TARANAKI DAILY NEWS

Case Number: 2266

Council Meeting: JUNE 2012

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Taranaki Daily News

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Discrimination
Balance, Lack Of
Columnists
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

Kathleen Lauderdale claims Taranaki Daily News failed to comply with Principles 1 (Accuracy, fairness and balance) and Principle 6 (Discrimination and Diversity) of the Press Council Statement of Principles in relation to an opinion piece published on April 17, 2012 headed “Paying the bill for another’s pregnant pause”. The same online pointer headline read “Pregnant bludgers, why should we pay?”

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.

Background
The piece in question, written by contributor Gordon Brown, opened with the line “It’s a funny old world at times”. The piece began with observations as to the appropriateness of a private member’s bill, selected in Parliament’s ballot, which had the aim of increasing the period for paid parental leave from 14 weeks to 6 months. The author proceeded to express firm views opposing a woman’s right to State support after having a child.

The piece included the following;

“Ultimately though, this debate comes down to the highly flawed concept that somehow, the rest of us have to pay for women having babies. It’s their choice surely. It seems not. Once again, we are being flogged by some for not doing enough for working women”;
“… The poor dear [a journalism graduate] was complaining that the entry level pay wasn’t enough to make it worth her while to actually get a job, what with the cost of child care”;
“… Naturally there was no mention of a dad or partner – she was “on her own””;
“She also said she got pregnant (despite the free contraception we supply) … Maybe there could be a work scheme for the unemployed so that someone could actually get the pill from the packet, get a glass of water and administer it to those poor dears who can’t manage it for themselves?
“…I’m not anti women. In fact I think every man should have one at least “;
“But I am anti bludging. Let’s call it what it is.”;
… [couples, and women, who went without to give their children a good upbringing], like us, never received a cent from the Government (or us) for childcare;
“Just why we should pick up the tab and somehow be jointly responsible for anyone else’s child… is a symptom of a reluctantly indulgent society, which simply can’t afford such profligacy, that allows others who abdicate their own responsibilities to bludge off the rest of us”.

The Complaint
Kathleen Lauderdale essentially claims the piece is discriminatory against women. It demeans women, mothers in particular, and disregards their importance to our society.

Ms Lauderdale says Mr Brown was wrong in saying mothers formerly had had no state support when in fact the Government had for many years paid the family benefit and assisted with home ownership.

Ms Lauderdale takes special exception to the extracts noted above. Ms Lauderdale says that;

“In any case “gratuitous” misogynistic exploitation of information about women and their circumstances and support they receive by means of inaccurate and rude commentary and reporting rationalised by claims of it being a discussion or healthy debate enjoyed by the public at large and without right of reply or opposing viewpoint should be beneath a reputable regional newspaper owned by a large media corporation like Fairfax…The tone and content is derogatory, inaccurate and offensive about women and mothers”.

8. Ms Lauderdale says, further, that;

“This piece, in my view, encourages unhealthy views about women and children by someone who holds a position of privilege and power within the community, making it all the more damaging”.

The Response
The Taranaki Daily News said the piece dealt with several issues notably the private members bill itself and the author’s disagreement with the idea that society should pay for women to have babies. The newspaper says;

“Mr Brown’s columns are challenging and invariably spark healthy debate in the Daily News. This was no different”.

The Decision
The Council does not agree with Ms Lauderdale in relation to her claim the article is discriminatory.

Two Press Council Principles are relevant. The first, Principle 6, provides that;

“Issues of gender… [and] … minority groups… are legitimate subjects for discussion where they are relevant and in the public interest, and publications may report and express opinions in these areas. Publications should not, however, place gratuitous emphasis on any such category in their reporting.

The second is Principle 4. Principle 4 provides that;

“A clear distinction should be drawn between factual information and comment or opinion. An article that is essentially comment or opinion should be clearly presented as such”.

The piece Ms Lauderdale complains about is clearly opinion. It is headed as such. Mr Brown is undoubtedly forthright in his views. His opinions are controversial. There will be those who agree with the opinions. Equally there will be many who do not. Opinion pieces do not offend the Press Council Principles simply because they engender strong opposing reactions.

The Council in previous decisions has said it will not uphold complaints against expressions of opinion that are extreme, provocative and offensive, and even abusive. However, if the opinion is so extreme in substance or tone as to go beyond what is acceptable as opinion, a complaint can be upheld. It would take extreme circumstances to do with risks to the public or gratuitous offence to a particular group for the Council to uphold a complaint in those circumstances.

The Council does not regard the piece in question to be so extreme as to violate the Principles. It expresses a legitimate, albeit, disputed opinion. While fully respecting Ms Lauderdale’s views it cannot agree that the piece involves a gratuitous misogynistic exploitation of information as Ms Lauderdale claims.

In saying this the Council recognises the validity of Ms Lauderdale’s observation about State support for mothers with children. Mr Brown was wrong when he said people like him who had raised families never received “a cent” for childcare. Nonetheless this error is not in the Council’s view sufficiently material for Ms Lauderdale’s complaint to be upheld.

The Council notes Taranaki Daily News’ offer to Ms Lauderdale to publish a letter from her setting out her opinions on the issues. The Council understands Ms Lauderdale did not accept this offer.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.