RIGHT TO LIFE NZ INC AGAINST THE PRESS

Case Number: 2141

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2010

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of

Ken Orr, secretary of Right to Life New Zealand Inc., made the complaint that an article published in the The Press on June 18, 2010 breached Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

The complaint is not upheld.

Background
The article headlined “Decline in abortion rates”, reported the decline in the number of Asian students having abortions. It included comment from a surgeon and the president of the Abortion Law Reform Society

The article quoted statistics released the previous day and compared them to the statistics from 2003.

The complaint concerned the fact that Right to Life New Zealand Inc or a similar organization was not asked to provide input so that there was balance in the article. Mr Orr stated that for the article to be balanced, both sides of the abortion debate should have been featured.

Mr Orr stated that Right to Life New Zealand Inc accepts that balance has been achieved in the past by comment being sought from the pro-life movement, and that The Press has a reputation for fairness, accuracy and balance in its reporting.

But Mr Orr could not agree that this particular article was fair or balanced given that no comment from any pro-life organization or group was included in the article.

Mr Orr pointed out that media releases from the pro-life movement commenting on the statistics were released on the same day, but accepted that The Press did not receive them.

Response from The Press
The editor of The Press responded stating that the article did not breach Principle 1 of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

He noted that Principle 1 does state that publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance. But it also goes on to state that where an issue is long-running, balance is to be judged on a number of stories rather than a single report.

The editor stated that the article that was the subject of the complaint was a short factual one about the drop in abortion rates, in particular among Asian students.

He noted that the article was not about the merits or otherwise of the practice.

The editor went on to point out that the debate on abortion has been in existence for over a decade and is a long-running one.

The editor acknowledged that the reporter did see the statement from Right to Life New Zealand Inc but, because Right to Life New Zealand Inc send material in by fax, it did not reach the reporter until the day after the article was published. The reporter was also not aware of any other statements commenting on the statistics from pro-life organizations when she wrote the article.

A longer and more detailed article, also drawn from the statistics, had been published on 7 July.

Discussion and Conclusion
The debate on abortion is a long-running one and as such meets the requirements of Principle 1 that where an issue is long-running, balance is to be judged on a number of stories rather than a single article.

The Press has published articles on both sides of the debate and Mr Orr himself commended the newspaper on the article published July 7 that included quotes from sources on both sides of the debate.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Kate Coughlan, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.