LIZ MANSON AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2502

Council Meeting: MAY 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Columnists
Discrimination

Overview

Liz Manson (the complainant) complained about a column by Alan Duff which was published in theNew Zealand Herald on March 1, 2016. She claimed that the column breached Principle 5 (Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters) and Principle 7 (Discrimination and Diversity) of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

The complaint is not upheld.

Background

The Duff column was about his perception of life and people in New Zealand. It outlined what he saw as the friendly tolerance and acceptance by New Zealanders of those with differing beliefs from what could usually be seen as middle of the road in New Zealand.

He contrasted what he called the tolerant, helpful, friendly and “cheery outlook” on life which he saw as an integral part of the New Zealand psyche to countries where there was no tolerance or acceptance.

The opinion piece at no time discussed nor made any discriminatory remarks about people with mental illness. It was purely Mr Duff’s perception of how lucky we are to live in New Zealand.

The front page pointer read “NZ, where even the nutters are nice Alan Duff A10”. This was also the headline to the column.

The Complaint

Ms Manson believed that the headline on both the front page and the article “perpetuated a derogatory name of people with mental illness”, namely the use of the word “nutter”.

The complainant did acknowledge that the article was an opinion piece and the use of the word “nutter” in the opinion piece was not about people who were mentally ill, but she felt that the use of “nutter” is a well-established “slang name” for mentally ill people and should not have been used.

In response to the newspapers explanation, the complainant reiterated her complaint that the word was derogatory and did not accept that “nutter” was a word that could be used as anything other than as derogatory towards those with mental illness.

The Response

The Herald editor, Murray Kirkness stated that this was an opinion piece by Mr Duff who is a well-known and sometimes provocative New Zealand writer.

Mr Duff, currently resident in France, wrote the opinion piece lauding New Zealand as a tolerant and wonderful place to live.

Mr Kirkness apologised for any unintended offence the complainant may have felt, but argued that the term “nutter”, is also “used colloquially as, for want of a better expression, a term of endearment for those with a different outlook on life to our own”.

He offered the complainant the opportunity to write a letter to the editor to publicly express her view of the matter should she choose to do so.

The Decision

Principle 5 states

Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters

Opinion, whether newspaper column or internet blog, must be clearly identified as such unless a column, blog or other expression of opinion is widely understood to consist largely of the writer’s own opinions. Though requirements for a foundation of fact pertain, with comment and opinion balance is not essential.

The opinion piece was clearly labelled as such and the complainant herself acknowledges that it was an opinion piece. It was purely and simply a contrast between New Zealand and other countries where Mr Duff believes being different is not accepted. It was his, and clearly written as such, own opinion.

Principle 7 states

Discrimination and Diversity

Issues of gender, religion, minority groups, sexual orientation, age, race, colour or physical or mental disability 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 opinion piece was not discriminatory and did not mention people with mental illness. It was purely and simply about what Mr Duff describes as the tolerant, helpful, friendly and cheery outlook of New Zealanders to people whose beliefs are different to their own.

While the word “nutter” may be offensive and have one meaning to the complainant, it is equally inoffensive and can be used in a different context by others. The Press Council reminds newspapers of the need to be aware of the different contexts and ensure care is taken when any word with multiple contexts is used.

The opinion piece does not breach Principle 5 or Principle 7 therefore, the complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Mark Stevens, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

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