PAUL KEARNS AGAINST GREYMOUTH STAR

Case Number: 2193

Council Meeting: JULY 2011

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Greymouth Evening Star

Ruling Categories: Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Discrimination
Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

Paul Kearns makes a complaint under Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and balance), Principle 6 (Discrimination and Diversity) and Principle 11 (Corrections) of the Press Council Statement of Principles. Mr Kearns states that the article which is the subject of his complaint, “Shunned O’Connor lashes out”, was highly offensive and inflammatory and promoted a fallacy that “gay people = sexually perverted misfits”.

Mr Kearns’ complaint is not upheld.

Background
The article was published in the Greymouth Star on April 1, 2011 and Mr Kearns states that the Greymouth Star also used the word “gay” to insult “all politicians” in a front page article the following night.

The article concerned Damien O’Connor’s comments regarding his withdrawal from the Labour Party list and his statement that the list was drawn up by “a gaggle of gays and self serving unionists”.

The article quoted Mr O’Connor, currently a list MP who represents the interests of the West Coast and Tasman, as stating that the composition of the list gave “straight shooters” like himself little chance of gaining a fair deal so he had withdrawn his name before the list was decided.

The article also included comments attributed to an anonymous blogger as saying Mr O’Connor had echoed what the multitudes had been thinking – “the Labour line-up is a squalid bunch of sexually perverted misfits and bludging, treasonous unionists”.

The Complaint
Mr Kearns believes that the comments in the article were highly offensive and inflammatory and promoted a fallacy that “gay people = sexually perverted misfits” and that the comments in the article “amounted to hate speech”.

He believes that there must be a better way to report the news regarding Mr O’Connor’s words without propagating such hateful speech as a legitimate opinion.

Mr Kearns acknowledged that the Greymouth Star published a letter he wrote in reply to the article but he believes that this did not address the substance of his complaint which was that “the Greymouth Star acted irresponsibly by publishing abusive and insulting anonymous comments that inflamed the situation”.

Response from the Greymouth Star
In reply the editor stated that Mr Kearns was taking offence at the Greymouth Star for publishing comments that were already widely published.

The editor went on to state that as the original comments came from the local MP Damien O’Connor, the paper had an extra duty to their West Coast readers to put the story in the context of that, and the way it was being portrayed in the media.

The editor stated that reporting what a blogger was saying, was not to express the opinion of the Greymouth Star, and should be seen in context of the broader story. It was a reflection of public opinion which on that morning certainly favoured Mr O’Connor for his forthrightness. The paper also carried a sidebar in the same edition quoting MP Kevin Hague who professed to not being offended by Mr O’Connor’s comments.

The Greymouth Star offered Mr Kearns space in the lead position of the letters to the editor and he accepted this. His complaint was subsequently published almost in full.

Discussion and Decision
The Council was provided with copies of the article and Mr Kearns’ published complaint letter.

The Council agrees with the complainant that a term such as "sexually misguided misfits" is offensive if applied gratuitously to a gay people but in this case the Council does not consider its use gratuitous.

The newspaper clearly reported the unnamed blogger's use of the phrase to illustrate the kind of sentiment Mr O'Connor's comment had aroused.

The Council is confident that editors would take care not to allow language such as this, directed at any group in the community, to be used without fair reason.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.