LIZ CLAYTON AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2476

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2015

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Headlines and Captions

Overview

  1. Ms Clayton complains about the headline to a New Zealand Herald online article dated 18 November 2015.The headline and the article related to a contretemps that occurred in Parliament when a number of women MPs for the first time revealed a history of sexual abuse against them, and said they were personally offended by the Prime Minister’s comments about rapists.Ms Clayton complains that the headline breaches Principle 6.

Background

2. The article arose from the Parliamentary debate surrounding the policy of the Australian Government to deport New Zealanders, who were not Australian citizens despite having lived in Australia for some time, if they committed criminal offending.Prior to deportation, a number were held in custody.Of this group those detained at the Christmas Island detention centre attracted the most debate.

3.The opposition parties were critical of the Government, and the Prime Minister, for their failure to support these New Zealanders.The Prime Minister’s response in Parliament was to point to “newly released offence statistics” to back an accusation he made that the Labour Party was supporting rapists, murderers and other criminals from the Christmas Island detention centre.

4.The following day the Speaker ruled that the Prime Minister did not need to apologise for his remarks.He started by reviewing the events of the day before. Said he had not heard the Prime Minister’s remarks but had he done so he would have ruled them unparliamentary, required their withdrawal and an apology. However, he said the delay meant he could no longer address the matter. This prompted a mass protest by women MPs in the Labour and Green parties, four of whom revealed they had personally been abused.(Members Poto Williams, Metria Turei, Jan Logie and Catherine Delahunty).This was the first time that they had made public such information.

5.Hansard for 11 November last reveals that the Speaker heard the two women MPs (Mmes Turei and Logie) and explained his ruling again.He interrupted the next three (Mmes Williams, Delahunty and Mahuta) and told them to sit down when they started a similar line of questioning.He warned other MPs that if anyone started a point of order with the same words, they would be asked to leave the house.Mmes Davidson, Curran and Woods did so, and were told to leave the house.Two of these (Mmes Davidson and Curran appeared to be on the point of making a similar revelation to the other four but we cannot be sure because it was not completed).

6.On one view of the matter the exchanges on this day were related to the points of order raised, the Speakers early ruling and not the sexual abuse. However, for present purposes we are prepared to accept that the MP’s involved were effectively “cut off”.

7.The headline to this report reads: “Silenced and ejected from Parliament: The female MPs who revealed they had been victims of sexual violence”.

The Complaint

8.The complaint received by the Press Council alleges the article’s headline was misleading and factually incorrect.Ms Clayton did not enlarge on that, but rather referred to email correspondence between her and the New Zealand Herald.However, it is clear the complaint is only against the headline.In the emails to the responsible person at the Herald, Ms Clayton complains that the entire article suggested that female MPs were silenced and ejected because they told their abuse stories, and this was factually incorrect.She states many chose to walk out, many were called to order for ignoring the speaker, and some were ejected for ignoring house rules.They were not ejected because they told stories of abuse.

9. Ms Clayton also complains that because of the Herald article, the matter was picked up by overseas news organisations, and she referred us to a number of headlines from various overseas news organisations.She states those resulting stories were from the first, inaccurate, New Zealand Herald report.She provided no evidence to show that these headlines appeared as a consequence of what was published by the Herald.


The Response

10.Ms Clayton emailed further, saying that the Herald accepted the headlines were “very misleading”.The editor responded that he did not acknowledge that the headlines were misleading, but said the synopsis that ran on the home page (which Ms Clayton had supplied as a screenshot in the initial complaint) was technically incorrect, but pointed out the ejections were a direct result of MPs raising their personal stories.

The Decision

11.Principle 6 reads:

6.Headlines and Captions

Headlines, sub-headings, and captions should accurately and fairly convey the substance or a key element of the report they are designed to cover.

12.We are concerned only with the headline. The story records that a number of female MPs, for the first time, publicly acknowledged that they had suffered sexual abuse.They were Mms Turei, Logie, Delahunty and Williams. The story revealed the comments by those MPs briefly outlining the abuse they had suffered.The story states that the Labour MP, Ms Williams, was thrown out of the debating chamber, which by reference to Hansard is incorrect.The MPs asked to leave were not amongst those who revealed the abuse, although they were involved in various points or order in an attempt to have the Prime Minister apologise.

13.The difficulty is that the complainant refers to one headline in her complaint to us but supplies two.

14.The first headline reads: “Silenced and ejected: The female MPs who revealed they had been victims of sexual violence”.Even allowing for the colon the reasonable reader would take the headline to mean that those who revealed they had been victims of sexual violence were silencedand ejected by the Speaker. It is true that the four of the female MPs interrupted by the Speaker where those who revealed sexual abuse. We think it not unreasonable to say such interruption could be said to have silenced those MPs. But the headline clearly implies that the MPs who complained of sexual abuse were ejected. On the Hansard record that is not correct. As such the headline is inaccurate.. This inaccuracy no doubt led to the editor’s comment that the homepage synopsis was inaccurate. If this headline were the subject of the complaint we would have upheld the complaint.

15.The headline complained of is in fact a caption under a photograph that reads “The MPs who stood up to their abusers…but were then silenced and ejected from Parliament”. There is a necessary link between the revealing of abuse, the silencing and ejection. It can be seen the second part of the headline contains some elements of the previous headline. However, in our view the headline remains inaccurate for the same reasons. As we have noted at [12] the MPs who revealed sexual abuse could be said to have been silenced but, critically, not one of those four MPs were ejected. The speaker ejected Mms Wood, Davidson and Curran who did not reveal any abuse. (Although as we have noted it is possible Mmes Curran and Davidson may have been about to do so). As well, as the complainant states, some of the MPs elected to walk out and the Speaker ejected the three above for breach of his ruling. If they had been among the abused MPs we may well have considered this matter differently. A basic check of the facts would have revealed the inaccuracy.

16.The complaint is upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Sandy Gill, Peter Fa’afiu, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.