PETER ZOHRAB AGAINST KAPITI OBSERVER

Case Number: 2075

Council Meeting: MAY 2009

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Kapiti Observer

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Balance, Lack Of
Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication

Introduction
Peter Zohrab complained to the Press Council about a report in the Kapiti Observer. He contended that it was unfair, unbalanced and discriminatory against males. He also complained that the newspaper had declined his offer of an article which would counter and balance the original report.
His twin complaints, about unfairness and non-publication of his views, are not upheld.

Background
On 17 November, 2008 the Kapiti Observer included an advertisement, paid for by the Kapiti Coast District Council, promoting “White Ribbon Day”. This is an international day when people wear a white ribbon to indicate that they do not condone violence against women.
The advertisement pointed out that the Kapiti Council actively supported the concept and gave information about how the day (November 25) would be celebrated on the Kapiti Coast.
On 27 November, the newspaper published a report of the activities. According to the newspaper, a “large crowd of men, women and young people” had assembled, wearing white ribbons, in support of “eliminating violence against women – and all family violence”.
The report included brief accounts of comments from various speakers. It appeared under the headline “Song celebrates White Ribbon Day” and was accompanied by a photograph of men, women and children building a white ribbon out of shells.

The Complaint
After the advertisement, Mr Zohrab telephoned the newspaper to complain and to explain that he wanted “equal space to put the true picture”. His request was not granted.
After the report of the community activities on White Ribbon Day, he wrote to the newspaper, again complaining that the report gave a ‘one-sided picture of domestic violence as being something that men do to women” and again requesting equal space for “the truth about domestic violence and the harm that is done by pushing an anti-male line”.
The newspaper did not reply to this letter of complaint but it did publish it, in full, in the Letters to the Editor section, under the heading “White Ribbon sends out a sexist message”, on December 11.
Dissatisfied, Mr Zohrab made a formal complaint to the Press Council, about the Kapiti Observer’s report on White Ribbon Day and the newspaper’s refusal to allow him to counter that account.

The Newspaper’s Response
The editor, Diane Joyce, stressed that the report had covered an event within the newspaper’s readership area, in a very similar way to many reports published each week. It was an account of an event rather than an analysis of the issue of family/domestic violence.
She pointed out that the complainant had been told the newspaper very rarely published submitted pieces, but that he could submit a letter to the editor. His next letter of complaint had indeed been printed.

Further Exchanges
The complainant contended that the article reported statements made by people at the event and thus much of the text became “anti-Male propaganda” i.e. the suggestion that this was merely a report about what happened could not be sustained.
Further, the Kapiti Observer had cooperated with a feminist agenda by giving this event such prominent coverage, half a page including a quarter-page photograph. The newspaper had given disproportionate coverage to “hate-speech”.
Finally, a letter to the editor could not be considered an adequate balance because letters had smaller word limits and did not include photographs.
The editor argued that it was the editor’s prerogative to decide on which events could be covered – subject to the usual factors such as timing, newsworthiness, availability of space.
She also noted there had been no opportunity to report on a “women’s violence against men” protest in Kapiti. If one were to occur it might well be covered.
She noted, briefly, that while the complainant suggested the event had been reported too prominently, it had actually appeared on page 21 of the paper.

Discussion and Conclusion
The essence of Mr Zohrab’s complaint is that without counter-balancing from an explicit pro-male point of view, such reports only perpetuate what he sees as a false stereotype – domestic violence is what men do to women.
However, as the Press Council has noted elsewhere, it is frequently not necessary to present all possible points of view.
This complaint is an apt example. The report was a straightforward account of a community event within the newspaper’s circulation area, rather than an in-depth examination of the causes and consequences of domestic violence.
In any case, Mr Zohrab was given access to the forum provided by the Letters to the Editor section. He was able to make his point forcefully, albeit more succinctly than he would have wished.
Further, his claims of “one-sided” and “anti-Male propaganda” amounting to “hate speech” cannot be sustained by an examination of the language embedded within the article.
The report is couched in words that are restrained rather than strident. The overall tone is unemotional. There is nothing to lend weight to a “primitive Feminist crusade against the men they hate” (his complaint to the Press Council).
Finally, Mr Zohrab makes much of “the harm done by pushing an anti-Male line” yet the comments of three male speakers at the event were extensively covered.
His twin complaints against the Kapiti Observer are not upheld

Press Council members considering the complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, John Gardner, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Lynn Scott.

Alan Samson took no part in the consideration of this complaint.