RIGHT TO LIFE NEW ZEALAND Inc AGAINST THE PRESS

Case Number: 2479

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2015

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

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

Overview

Ken Orr, Secretary of Right to Life NZ Inc, complains about an article on the “right to die” which appeared inThe Press on October 15, 2015. He alleges the article breaches Press Council Principle 1, Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; and Principle 6, Headlines and Captions.

The complaint is not upheld.

Background

The debate about euthanasia, the right to die and assisted suicide is long-standing and takes centre stage from time to time. This often occurs, as in the case of this complaint, when a terminally ill person is featured in the media seeking the right to choose when to end their life. David Stephens, a sufferer of motor neurone disease, approachedThe Press to express his views about his wish to end his life when he can no longer walk or talk. The issue has recently been prominent, following extensive media coverage of a court case brought by Lecretia Seales, who was terminally ill. Ms Seales sought to allow her doctor lawfully to assist her to die, at a time of Ms Seales’ own choosing. The case was unsuccessful.

The complaint turns on whether The Press coverage of the story and the general issue was unbalanced in favour of the right to die movement and whether the headline was misleading in suggesting the existence of a “right” to die.

The Complaint

The complainant believes the front-page article in The Press lacks balance and promotes “right to die” views, rather than simply informing the public. Mr Orr believes the media is “at the service of the community” and has a duty to promote the common good by upholding the law (which currently prohibits assisted suicide) and by making room for views in opposition to the right to die from the medical profession, palliative care specialists and the pro-life movement.He examined 29 articles mentioning euthanasia printed in The Press in the preceding 12 months. He says that 16 of those were supportive of euthanasia and contendsThe Press is “campaigning” for the right to die

Mr Orr also complains the headline “Man’s Plea: Give Me the Right To Die” is misleading. His ground for this complaint is that there is no formally recognised human right to assisted suicide in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act or United Nations convention.

The Response

The Press, in a comprehensive response, does not accept it has breached either principle. The editor points out that Mr Stephens, the subject of the article and headline, was prompted by the Seales’ case to contactThe Press and was interviewed for the story. The article is also placed in the context of the issues raised by Ms Seales and quotes a number of political sources who were considering parliamentary action, as well as a senior government Minister who would not support a proposed End of Life Choice Bill.

The editor considers the article complained of to be fair both in isolation and in the context of other stories on the topic. According toPress archives, in the preceding 12 months the paper has published 84 pieces of content with the keyword euthanasia. These covered a range of views about the euthanasia debate and were a mixture of news, commentary and letters to the editor, including three on the topic from Mr Orr. The editor says that Mr Orr has misrepresented their editorial stance. She cites an editorial published on October16, the day following the story about Mr Stephens, stating thatThe Press considers “it is a tremendously difficult and hugely confronting issue. It challenges our deepest moral and ethical beliefs”.The Press has taken an editorial position that the time is right for “a robust nationwide discussion on euthanasia. But it needs to be managed with great sensitivity”.

In relation to the headline the editor concludes that it meets the requirements of principle 6 as it accurately and fairly conveys the substance or a key element of the story.

The Decision

The Press has provided persuasive information to support the contention that its overall coverage of the right to die issue has been balanced.In its October 16 editorial it clearly recognises and respects the strong opinions held on both sides of the debate and the importance and sensitivity of the issues.

The headline accurately reflects the views of the main interviewee of the story.

The complaint is not upheld.

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