RIGHT TO LIFE NZ INC AGAINST SUNDAY STAR-TIMES

Case Number: 2319

Council Meeting: MARCH 2013

Verdict: Not Upheld with Dissent

Publication: Sunday-Star Times

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage


Introduction
Ken Orr, as Secretary of Right to Life New Zealand Inc., alleged that an article in the Sunday Star Times on 27 January 2013 breached Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) and Principle 4 (Comment and fact) of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

The complaint was not upheld, with one member dissenting from this decision.

The Complaint
The article, headed “Family Planning Association’s charity status comes under fire”, outlined what the writer saw as an anti-abortionist group’s ongoing campaign against Family Planning.

It commenced with the comment “Anti-abortionists are taking aim at the charity status of the Family Planning Association in their latest assault against women and pro-choice organisations”. It is this comment that the complaint related to.

The complainant believed that the statement was false and defamatory and strongly objected to the use of the words “their latest assault against women”.

They stated that “Our society is pro-women, pro-life and pro-family, it is dedicated to protecting women and their unborn from the violence of abortion. The majority of our members are women, we are not engaged in assaulting women”.

The complainant stated that while it was accepted that there was no intention by the newspaper to suggest that women were being physically assaulted, the use of the word “assault” was misleading and inferred that there had been previous assaults on women.

The complainant also believed the article inferred that actions undertaken by the organisation were “assaulting women” and this inference had bought the aims and objectives of the organisation into disrepute.

The Newspaper’s Response
Newspaper deputy editor Michael Donaldson replied that there had been no suggestion in the article that physical assaults had occurred and that “assault” was used in the context of an “attack” on Family Planning and this would have been easily understood by any reader.

The article covered the challenge by Right to Life on the charitable status of Family Planning.

Both sides of the debate were given the opportunity to comment, and their views were quoted in the article, including the complainant’s.

The editor stated that no reader would take the story to mean that the Right to Life organisation somehow physically assaults women.

Discussion
The article concerned Right to Life’s challenges to the charitable status and aspects of the work undertaken by Family Planning.

There was no inference, nor suggestion in the article that the complainant organisation was involved in physical assaults of women. It covered Right to Life’s ongoing concerns regarding Family Planning.

The debate on abortion is a long-running and emotive one. This article covered one aspect of a long running story and included views from both sides of the debate, including the complainant’s.

The complaint is not upheld.

John Roughan dissented from this decision.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding and John Roughan.