KEITH JEFFERIES AGAINST STUFF AND THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2471

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2015

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Court Reporting
Drugs
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Keith Jefferies has complained that an article in The Dominion Post (Page 3) of 15 August and Stuff.co.nz online articles of 14 and 15 August breached Press Council Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance).The Dominion Post headline was “Lawyer convicted on drugs charges” whilst the online article was “Wellington lawyer pleads guilty to drugs charges and gains convictions.”

Both the printed and online articles focused on a lawyer in private practice, Keith Jefferies, who was fined $1,300 after pleading guilty to possession of methamphetamine (meth) and other drugs.

The articles also covered Mr Jefferies views on the conviction and his plans to appeal against the conviction.

The Complaint

Mr Jefferies complains that both articles breached Press Council Principle 1.

He contends that the articles are unbalanced and aspects of it “entirely misleading and inaccurate”.He believes that an apology from the publication was required.

Mr Jefferies also believed that the Stuff article has “a nasty out of context statement in the last paragraph” which was not mentioned by the Judge or Counsel at his hearing.He contends that the journalist should not have inserted it in an isolated way as it had the intention of denigrating him in addition to the whole article lacking balance.

In his final comment to the Press Council Mr Jefferies sought to raise a further inaccuracy. As this was raised more than two months after the complaint was lodged and had not been raised with the editor at any stage, the Press Council has not considered that point.

The Response

The Dominion Post Editor in Chief (Central Region) responded that the paper and Stuff.co.nz did not breach the principles cited.In regards to the Stuff article, the editor acknowledged that the judge in his consideration had indicated that Mr Jefferies ‘might’ expect further consequences for his conviction rather than ‘should’.Stuff amended the article in a timely manner in accordance with Press Council Principle 7.Stuff also did not accept Mr Jefferies’ claim that the online article had wrongly included previous media coverage of controversy he had attracted in relation to comments made in a previous case.

The editor also rejected the claims made against the published article.The story was balanced.A second reporter had conducted an interview with Mr Jefferies via cellphone.The discussion as asserted by the editor was about the potential for further issues to arise for Mr Jefferies from the conviction including the prospect of a Law Society investigation. Mr Jefferies stated during the cellphone interview that he planned to appeal the sentence and offered his opinion that the convictions were not serious enough to merit being struck off as a lawyer.The editor said that this was all covered in the article.

The Decision

Mr Jefferies said that the defense counsel should have been interviewed in order to provide balance however the editor stated that interviewing Mr Jefferies by phone following the hearing provided the required balanced.The Press Council agrees with the editor.

Mr Jefferies complained that the article should not have carried reference to a previous statement that was out of context to this hearing. The majority of the Council thought it was appropriate to mention this. Mr Jefferies is an extremely high profile criminal barrister and interest in his earlier cases, including infamous comments, is inevitable. We see no breach of the relevant Principle and the complaint is not upheld.

The Council acknowledges that the convictions and the subsequent media coverage could have an impact on Mr Jefferies’ career.However the Council can only adjudicate on the media coverage before it.

The online article did have an inaccurate statement, however this was acknowledged and swiftly amended by Stuff.

The published article did have an inaccurate description of Mr Jefferies’ title and again the Council agrees that the amendment in the following Monday’s edition had also satisfied Principle 7.

On Principle 1, 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.