RIGHT TO LIFE NZ Inc AGAINST OTAGO DAILY TIMES

Case Number: 2529

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Otago Daily Times

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Right to Life New Zealand Inc (the complainant), through secretary Ken Orr, alleged that an article in theOtago Daily Times (the newspaper) on 4 April 2016 breached Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

The complaint was not upheld.

Background

The article, headed “Euthanasia advocate well received”, outlined a speech given at the National Rural Health Conference in Dunedin by Assisted Dying Advocate, Matt Vickers. Mr Vickers is the widower of Lecretia Seales who challenged the Crown on her right to choose how her life ended, by way of court action prior to her death.

At the conference, Mr Vickers spoke about assisted death, his wife’s case and other information supporting assisted dying that he had accessed from overseas.

The Complaint

The complainant objected to the terminology used (“assisted dying) as he believes that assisted dying is actually “killing”. He also objected to the use of the term “quality of life” as he believed that those advocating for assisted dying were trying to change the idea of “sanctity of life” to one of “quality of life” to assist their cause.

He believed that the newspaper had a responsibility to provide opposing views in the article. He stated that “this was not the time to be neutral but that the newspaper should be defending the sanctity of life of every member of our community”.

The complainant provided information to the Press Council from various sources both in New Zealand and overseas to support his point of view which opposed assisted dying and which he believed the newspaper should be providing to the community in their publications.

The complainant acknowledged that the article was a report of Mr Vickers speech to the conference and that the newspaper had a right to report that speech, but he also believed that the newspaper should have included information on the opposing viewpoint at the same time.

The Response

Newspaper editor Barry Stewart replied that the article was a standard newspaper report covering Mr Vickers speech and the opinions expressed were clearly attributed to Mr Vickers.

The editor noted that while the complainant did not accept that the term “assisted dying” is in common usage, it clearly is in common usage and a google search would show this.

He also noted that while the complainant objected to the term “assisted dying”, changing the terminology would have made the reporting inaccurate.

The article was not pro nor against assisted dying, it merely reported the speech and attributed it to the speaker.

The newspaper also gave the complainant the opportunity to present his view in an opinion piece in the newspaper which he accepted. That opinion piece was published in the newspaper on 27 April 2016.

Over time, the newspaper had published articles on both sides of the debate.

The Decision

The article was a factual reporting of Mr Vickers speech to a conference and was reported as such with the speaker named. It did not need to go into the wider issues of the debate on assisted dying.

It did not advocate for or against euthanasia but rather outlined the information covered by Mr Vickers speech. There was no lack of balance, fairness or accuracy.

While the complainant might not agree with the terminology used, which is his right, it is in common usage and there are people who would disagree with his opinion as is their right.

Following his complaint to the newspaper, the complainant was given the opportunity by the newspaper to provide an opinion piece covering his viewpoint and information supporting that viewpoint, which he accepted and had published.

The complaint was not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.