KEVIN BROWN AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2622

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Discrimination
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Kevin Brown complains a Weekend Herald infographic breaches Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) and Principle 7 (Discrimination and Diversity).

The complaint is not upheld.

Background

The complaint relates to an infographic attached to a preview report for a Bledisloe Cup match.

Among five things the author identified as 'factors at play' in the match, there was one labelled 'Michael Cheika'.

About the Wallabies coach it said: "Pressure continues to mount. The 2015 Rugby World Cup is fast becoming a distant memory; believers are dwindling by the day. Cheika has limited cattle to work with but some of his selections are odd and his methods don't seem to be getting the best from the squad he has assembled. It shapes as another long year for the Wallabies".

The Complaint

Mr Brown said it was insulting and disrespectful to refer to the Wallabies as 'cattle to work with'. He argued it was unlawful discrimination and a breach of their human rights.

Although not relevant to the principles, Mr Brown also took aim at the journalist saying he was neither clever nor insightful; he came across as arrogant with assumptions of grandeur.

The tone of the journalism was derisive and ungracious.

The Response

For the Herald, senior editor Oskar Alley said the content was part of the writer's analysis of the impending match.

The analysis was correct, and Mr Alley pointed out that it was not uncommon for coverage of an All Blacks match in NZ to be skewed toward the local audience.

The paper reserved 'the right to occasionally stray into some parochialism' - both positive coverage of the All Blacks and negative coverage of the opposition.

Mr Alley put the cattle comment in the same context as the two nations' long history of verbal barbs and antagonistic reporting around rugby. And he noted the respective coaches had been 'duelling' in recent times.

The Decision

The infographic content was the writer’s analysis of the looming match.

Although not overtly labelled as such, it is clear this was the sport writer's opinion of the 'factors at play' ahead of the test.

The content cannot be considered inaccurate. Nor does the Council consider it unfair or unbalanced.

In regard to discrimination, it is important to consider the context of the content: An analytical commentary ahead of a rugby test match. Referring to the team as cattle for the coach to work with is narrative license rather than an attack on the players' human rights.

As important as context is here, is the position and role of the 'targets' of the comment. Professional sports men and women are fair game when it comes to reporting around their performance and one can only imagine that this article would have had little or no impact on international representatives well used to this type of news coverage.

Lastly, Mr Brown’s criticism of the writer has not formed part of the Council’s consideration of whether principles were breached. Because it was raised, however, the Council notes that the criticism was unwarranted and it sees nothing arrogant in the tone of writing.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Jenny Farrell, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Christina Tay.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.