MICHAEL BAHJEJIAN AGAINST WAIKATO TIMES

Case Number: 2312

Council Meeting: MARCH 2013

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Waikato Times

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Balance, Lack Of
Photographs
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

Michael Bahjejian claims that the Waikato Times breached Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) by publishing photos in its World Digest pages on 26 and 27 December 2012 which were predominately Roman Catholic at the expense of other Christian denominations. In his words, "it presents to the wide public Christmas as being a Roman Catholic celebration, misinforming the reader as to what Christianity is."

He also believes the newspaper’s actions breached Principle 6 (Discrimination and Diversity) as Christmas time "compels the editor to commit enough time and effort to select suitable photos that will put their news value before their aesthetic or cultural qualities. To omit them is discrimination."
This complaint is not upheld.

Background
On 26 December 2012, the Waikato Times' World Digest page featured six photos under the heading "Globetrotting" of groups and individuals celebrating Christmas.

On 27 December 2012, the same page featured a photo of the Swiss Guards awaiting the arrival of Pope Bendict XVI for his address from a balcony in St Peter's Square at the Vatican.

The Complaint
Mr Bahjejian's complaint is about the choice of photos featured in the Word Digest pages on both those days, which he believes misinforms the reader as to what Christianity is.

In particular, the four photos published on 26 December coupled with the photo of the Swiss Guard on 27 December, relate to the Roman Catholic church or faith. He contends that the Roman Catholic church represents half of the Christian worldwide population. Therefore no mention or photos of other Christian demoninations (e.g. Protestant, Anglican) and "persecuted Christians" worldwide is a breach of NZ Press Council principles 1 and 6.

In regards to Principle 1, the complaint sits with Mr Bahjejian's contention that Roman Catholic photos dominating the World Digest pages on those two days encourages the public to think Roman Catholicism has a "monopoly" of representing Christianity at Christmas time - therefore the photo selection goes against all elements of Principle 1.

The Newspaper's Response
Geoff Taylor, Deputy Editor, responded that whilst he could see Mr Bahjejian's point of view, he emphasised that photos are selected for "news value and news value alone." There was no thought given to excluding certain religious groups. In addition, there is no time or opportunity for editors of pages to go through photos so no denomination would miss out.

Mr Taylor notes that the World Pages at the time he sent the newspaper's response had also covered a number of Coptic Christian celebrations of Christmas.

The paper gives ample coverage to other religious events such as Diwali, but the usual considerations for covering something, that they are newsworthy and photogenic, applies (eg well -known names involved in the celebration, many people involved such as St Peter's Square in Rome). Visual impact is also a consideration.
A number of events are covered by international media more than others. This also impacts on the range of photos available to be selected by the photos editor on that day.

The newspaper refutes Mr Bahjejian's suggestions of breaching both principles.

Discussion and Decision
Waikato Times contends that no thought was given to excluding certain religious groups; the photos were selected on news value and visual impact to its readership. We have no reason to doubt that this was the case as it is for all newspapers throughout the country.

Mr Bahjejian draws a long bow when he suggests the selection of photos will encourage readers to regard Roman Catholicism as having a monopoly of representing Christianity during Christmas. Waikato Times readers are familiar with those pages and the reason for them - to showcase photos of significant events around the world. There was no misleading of readers by omission.

Mr Taylor had explained clearly what occurs in photo editorial rooms throughout the country on any given day. Not having photos of other Christian denominations does not discriminate against them and most readers of the Times will come to the same conclusion.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding and John Roughan.