PETER WINDSOR AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2149

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2010

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Headlines and Captions
Court Reporting
Accuracy
Misleading
Sensationalism

Introduction
Mr Windsor’s complaint relates to an article in The Dominion Post, Thursday 15th July 2010. Mr Windsor objects to both the content of the article and the headline.

Mr Windsor’s complaint is not upheld.

Background
The headline of the article is “School Board not told of bus driver allegation” and the introduction read “A Wellington bus driver who lost his job after being accused of sexually harassing a 13-year-old girl has lost an employment relations case but remains a board member of Mana College”.

The article relates to events regarding Mr Windsor’s employment with Mana Coaches, his Employment Relations Authority (ERA) case, and his position as an elected member of the Board of Trustees of Mana College.

Complaint
Mr Windsor believes that the headline was unnecessarily sensationalist and that the article contained misleading and incorrect information.

Mr Windsor states that the first paragraph of the article has incomplete information for sensational effect. He states that the allegation of sexual harassment was found to be without foundation by Mana Coachlines but this was not stated in the article.

He goes on to outline the following issues with the article:
The 4th paragraph is incorrect as he did not deny the incident, but rather he was responding to the reporter’s questions.
In regard to the 6th paragraph, Mr Windsor states that he resigned from his employment, and that this fact was stated in the ERA decision.
In regard to the 9th paragraph, Mr Windsor states he was responding to the reporter’s question concerning the ERA determination and not the alleged sexual harassment. This paragraph relates to Mr Windsor allegedly stating to the reporter that he felt that he was a victim, and that he thought there was “more to the story than meets the eye”.

Mr Windsor states that “the main crux here is that a reader will believe that I did commit sexual harassment, but this is further from the truth”.

Mr Windsor states that he told the reporter that the allegation of sexual harassment was found to be without foundation, but the article associated the alleged sexual harassment and his denial in a manner that was misleading to anyone reading the article.

Mr Windsor states that the article twisted the facts to blatantly mislead the reader rather than inform in a proper manner.

Mr Windsor acknowledges that The Dominion Post did run a clarification on 17th July 2010 stating that Mr Windsor’s employer, Mana Coach Services, did not regard the complaint about Mr Windsor as one of sexual harassment, but he states that this was only after he contacted the paper and provided them with relevant information. Mr Windsor states that this did not mitigate the damage done to his family by the original article.

Mr Windsor also requests the Council to rule on the refusal of the Assistant Editor of The Dominion Post to allow Mr Windsor to re-publish e-mail correspondence between himself and Mr Windsor. Mr Windsor believes that this “runs counterproductive to the very essence of the freedom of free speech”.

Newspaper’s Response
The editor replied that the paper “is satisfied that the article complied with council guidelines, being based on the contents of the Employment Relations Authority’s determination and follow-up interviews by the reporter”.

She goes on to say that “Mr Windsor contacted the newspaper’s head of news on the date of publication and raised two issues with the article – that the allegation of sexual harassment had been found to be without foundation and his concern with the article’s headline”.

As a result of this, after making further enquiries, the newspaper published a clarification on 17th July 2010 which stated “Wellington bus driver Peter Windsor’s employer Mana Coach Services did not regard a complaint about him as sexual harassment, as reported on Thursday, but did regard his behavior as serious and a matter that could result in dismissal”.

The paper does not accept that the headline was inaccurate. The information in the article, “Mana College board of Trustees chairperson Chris Toa said Mr Windsor informed him of the incident last year. He [Mr Toa] and principal Mike Webster had decided to not inform the rest of the board of trustees as it was a “private matter”” supported the headline.

The paper provides the following information:
In regard to paragraph one, the ERA determination clearly states that the nature of the schoolgirl’s complaint was deemed by Mr Windsor’s employer to be one of sexual harassment. A letter supplied by Mr Windsor himself from his employer also acknowledges that the allegation was one of sexual harassment. The article did not say that Mr Windsor committed sexual harassment, but said he was accused of sexual harassment.
In regard to the 4th paragraph, the paper states that this paragraph was not inherently wrong. Mr Windsor does not accept he sexually harassed the schoolgirl and his employer said that this claim was without foundation. To a question from the reporter about the sexual harassment allegation, Mr Windsor said it was without foundation and was quoted on this.
In regard to the 6th paragraph, the paper states that the ERA decision shows that Mr Windsor was told by his employer on August 26th that a preliminary decision had been made to dismiss him. This action was confirmed to Mr Windsor on September 3rd. The ERA decision, paragraph 22 states “The final meeting occurred on 7th September: Mr Windsor resigned (p160) but was also dismissed (pages 151 – 156)”.
In regard to the 9th paragraph, the paper states Mr Windsor was asked by the reporter to comment on the initial sexual harassment allegation and he did state that it was without foundation and was quoted in the article as saying this.

The paper goes on to state that the reporter did not confuse the difference between sexual harassment and alleged sexual harassment. The introduction to the article states that Mr Windsor was “accused of sexually harassing a 13-year-old girl”. This is phrased as an accusation, not as a confirmation, of sexual harassment. Mr Windsor is also correctly quoted on the article as saying this allegation was without foundation.

The paper does acknowledge that while the article is accurate in saying that Mr Windsor was accused of sexual harassment by a schoolgirl, the article could have been clearer in stating that the employer found this claim to be without foundation. Mr Windsor was quoted to this effect in the article, and further clarification was made in the Dominion Post on 17 July 2010.

The paper goes on to state that the reality is that Mr Windsor’s behaviour towards the schoolgirl is the catalyst for the negative publicity he has received. He has lost his job as a result of his “fundamentally inappropriate” behaviour. This is not the viewpoint of the newspaper but of his now former employer and the ERA.

The paper states that this matter has come to the public attention due to the public release of the ERA decision and that ERA decisions are regular features of media reports. The reporter read the ERA decision and then contacted both Mr Windsor and the school board chairman for comment.

In regard to Mr Windsor’s request that the Council provide a ruling on the decision of a newspaper employee to refuse Mr Windsor permission to republish e-mail correspondence between Mr Windsor and the employee, the paper submits that unauthorized publication of a Dominion Post employee’s e-mails is a copyright issue and can be handled by Fairfax Media’s lawyers.



Discussion and Conclusion
Mr Windsor makes the complaint that the headline used in the article in question was sensationalist, and that the article contained incorrect facts.

The headline was “School board not told of bus driver allegation”. This headline was based on the fact that the reporter was informed by Mr Toa, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Mana College, that he and the Principal, Mr Mike Webster, had made the decision “not to inform the rest of the board of trustees [about the allegation against Mr Windsor] as it was a private matter” although Mr Webster informed the reporter that he did not know about the incident.

The information provided by Mr Toa (Chairperson of the Board of Trustees) clearly shows that the full Board of Trustees was not informed about the situation.

The headline does relate to the content of the article and does not breach Principle 5 of the Press Council Statement of Principles.

In regards to the article containing incorrect facts or information, the opening paragraph of the article clearly states that Mr Windsor was “accused of sexually harassing a 13 year old girl” and does not go on to state this as a concrete fact. It does note Mr Windsor’s denial of the claim and his comment that it was without foundation.

When Mr Windsor contacted The Dominion Post following the article published on 15th July 2010 and made the newspaper aware of his concerns, a clarification was published in The Dominion Post on 17th July 2010.

The Press Council also notes that the web version of the story has been amended and reads “A Wellington bus driver who lost his job after being accused of inappropriate behaviour with a 13-year-old girl has lost an employment relations case …” The article then goes on to outline the ERA case and decision.

Mr Windsor’s states that he resigned from his employment, but he did take a case of constructive dismissal against his employer.

The article which is the subject of Mr Windsor’s complaint is based on information obtained from a public ERA decision, information obtained from the Chairperson of the Mana College Board of trustees and Mr Windsor himself. While Mr Windsor may not agree with the ERA decision and the information contained within it, the decision stands unless overturned by an appeal and can be used as a resource by the newspaper.

In regard to Mr Windsor’s request that the Council provide a ruling on the decision of a newspaper employee to refuse Mr Windsor permission to republish e-mail correspondence between Mr Windsor and the employee, this is a copyright issue and Mr Windsor will need to address this issue with The Dominion Post.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, John Roughan, and Stephen Stewart.

Clive Lind took no part in the consideration of this complaint.