RIGHT TO LIFE NEW ZEALAND Inc AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2537

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld with Dissent

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Columnists
Comment and Fact

Overview

Ken Orr, as Secretary of Right to Life New Zealand Inc.(RTL), alleged that an opinion piece by Jackie Edmond, CEO of Family Planning (FP), in theDominion Post on 5 July 2016 breached Principle 4 (Comment and fact) of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

The complaint was not upheld, with one member dissenting.

Background

The article, headed “1960’s abortion law unacceptable for 21st century women of New Zealand”, outlined the writer’s opinion of New Zealand’s current legislation covering abortion.

The writer believed that current legislation is out of date and restrictive for women who wanted an abortion and that it needs to be reviewed.

The writer believed that New Zealand’s current abortion law is out of step with international trends which were making “abortion laws less restrictive reflecting the expanding rights of women to make their own decisions about whether or when, to have a child”.

A comment was included in the opinion piece that “Rape is notably absent from our law as a reason to permit an abortion”.

The Complaint

The complainant objected to the comment “Rape is notably absent from our law as a reason to permit an abortion” and stated this was incorrect. He went on to state that given the writer was the CEO of FP which is the major abortion referral agency in New Zealand, she should be conversant with abortion laws in New Zealand and not make incorrect comments..

He went on to provide the Press Council with an overview of the legislation and amendments over the years.

He also objected to the use of “1960’s law” as the section covering abortion on grounds of sexual assault were passed in 1977 therefore the opinion piece breached Principle 4 as the material facts it was based on were inaccurate.

The complainant did acknowledge that it was an opinion piece.

The Response

Newspaper Editor in Chief, Bernadette Courtney, replied that it was an opinion piece and given the writer’s extensive knowledge of the issues, she was fully equipped to comment on whether the abortion laws were broken or not from the writer’s own viewpoint.

In regard to reference to 1960’s law, the current abortion law sits within the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 and this was noted by the writer in the opinion piece.

While the complainant may not agree with the writer’s opinion, it is the opinion of the writer and expressed as such and published on a page clearly marked Opinion.

The Decision

The article was an opinion piece and clearly marked as such. It expressed the writer’s viewpoint which differed from the complainant’s.

It included information regarding law over time and specifically noted the current law is found in the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977.

While one person might not agree with the opinion of another, which is their right, it is important to remember that they, in turn, must respect the right of others to hold and express their viewpoint.

The legislation does not state that rape is a reason in itself to permit abortion, but rather states that

S 2(a) The following matters, while not in themselves grounds for any act specified in s183 or s186, may be taken into account in determining for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) whether the continuance of the pregnancy would result in serious danger to her life or to her physical or mental health

S 2(a)(3) the fact (where such is the case) there are reasonable grounds for believing the pregnancy is the result of sexual violation

The complaint was not upheld.

One member, John Roughan, would have upheld the complaint of inaccuracy on the grounds that the abortion law does make provision for victims of rape.

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