MICHELE CONSALVO AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2490

Council Meeting: MARCH 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Discrimination
Headlines and Captions
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Michele Consalvo has complained about an article published on Stuff on February 7, 2016, and in theTimaru Herald titled, ‘Road madness in Mackenzie over holiday weekend’.

The story, published on a Sunday, reports the number of driving complaints recorded since Friday on that Waitangi Day weekend and is based on a single interview with a senior constable in the district. Thirty complaints had been received on the *555 line

The story details one incident the officer described as the most serious of a “crazy” weekend, which was caused by “a Chinese couple too inept to be allowed to continue driving”.

While the story itself was headlined as noted above, the headline on the Stuff section or homepage (known as the index headline) was ‘Chinese couple’s keys confiscated’.

The Complaint

Ms Consalvo complains under several principles; 1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, 2) Privacy, 6) Headlines and Captions, and 7) Discrimination and Diversity. The essence of her concern though is, in her words, that “the article…is racist”.

Ms Consalvo argues that the couple isn’t named, so “it’s highly ignorant and offensive to point out their race”. In reply to the editor, she disagrees “that stating the couple’s race was relevant to the recent errors of foreign drivers. Why do we need to know if they are Chinese specifically? … The public do not need to know which race of foreign driver as that creates something called “confirmation bias” in some members of the public”.

The Response

On behalf of Stuff, editor Patrick Crewdson said the couple’s ethnicity was relevant and accurate (not gratuitous, as per the principle) both because of the ongoing debate over whether foreign tourists are equipped to drive on New Zealand roads and because of the number of tourists in New Zealand for Chinese New Year.

Crewdson adds that that abilities of foreign drivers has been a story for several years. He says Stuff, and other media, typically specify a driver’s ethnicity not to encourage stereotypes but because country of origin suggests how likely they are to be familiar with local road conditions and rules.

Finally, he notes that the complainant has not raised any issues under principles 1, 2 and 6, despite mentioning them in her complaint.

The Decision

To clarify - despite the use of the terms race and ethnicity, it is the driver’s nationality that’s reported.

The complainant offers no evidence regarding fairness, balance, accuracy or privacy, sothe complaints against Principles 1 and 2 are not upheld.

A random review of news stories from the past two years about foreign driver crashes carried on New Zealand news websites reveals that the driver’s nationality was mentioned every time, be it Chinese, American, German, Indian and so on. There is nothing inherently racist in pointing out a driver’s nationality, specifically when the issue underpinning the story is the driving ability of tourists on local roads.

Any reporter will want to give as many details as possible about those involved in a crash so as to be accurate, provide context and avoid reader assumptions. Nationality is useful information, although it’s noted that only nationality was reported in this case; not age, gender or other potentially helpful facts.

The fact the police officer pointed out that weekend was “crazy” because it was both a celebration of Waitangi Day and Chinese New Year, makes this couple’s nationality more relevant.

The Council has upheld discrimination complaints in the past (June 2013: Case 2332) where ethnicity was mentioned without any context given in the story. However as noted, this story did contain relevant context.The complaint against Principle 7 is not upheld.

On Principle 6, the headline fairly represented a key element of the article, but the Council notes that the use of couple’s nationality in the index headline was edging towards gratuitous.The complaint against Principle 6 is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.