NICK THOMAS AGAINST UPPER HUTT LEADER

Case Number: 2278

Council Meeting: AUGUST

Verdict: Not Upheld with Dissent

Publication: Upper Hutt Leader

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

Introduction
Nick Thomas complains about a headline given to an article in the Upper Hutt Leader on 16 May 2012 which reports the completion of road works on the Rimutaka hill road, straightening a stretch which has been popularly, but unofficially, known as Muldoon’s Corner. The headline referred to it as ‘Piggy’s corner’.
The complaint alleges that using the nickname ‘Piggy’ breaches the Council’s Principles 1, 4, 5 and 6, namely Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; Comment and Fact; Headlines and Captions; Discrimination and Diversity.

The complaint is not upheld.

The Complaint
Mr Thomas argues that in substituting the nickname ‘Piggy’ for the usual ‘Muldoon’ in identifying the stretch of road, the Leader was using a sobriquet which Thomas states was and is derogatory. This made the headline, in Thomas’s view ‘disrespectful to a recognized, well respected, deceased person’ and introduced a political slant to what purported to be a straight piece of news. All of the breaches of principle of which Mr Thomas complains hang on his view that the use of this nickname is derogatory.

The Leader Reply
While Mr Thomas claimed that the nickname was never used in public and the media never used it, the editor supplied numerous examples, most of them admittedly dating from later years, but one being the Muldoon obituary from the respected British paper, The Independent, 6 August 1992. The editor says the origin of the Piggy nickname is somewhat obscure.

Discussion
Nicknames have been a part of New Zealand political life for many years: ‘King Dick’, ‘Kiwi Keith’, ‘Gentleman Jack’ and ‘The Great Helmsman’ spring immediately to mind. Where they have become widely used, as ‘Piggy’ has, they seem to have reflected a mix of attitudes. Their origins, even if they could be traced, would not necessarily determine the spirit in which they came to be used and whatever their beginnings, over time, for many people, there came to be in their use an element of endearment. There could also be a touch of mockery, not letting our leaders get too far above us.
The entry for Muldoon in Wikipedia says, ‘from his early years as a member of Parliament, Muldoon became known as Piggy; the epithet that would remain with him throughout his life even amongst those who were his supporters’. The use of ‘Piggy’ for Muldoon appears to the Council to reflect a variety of attitudes and it does not accept that it is simply a derogatory term; hence the complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind and Stephen Stewart.

John Roughan dissented from this decision.