ROBIN GRIEVE AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2160

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2010

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

Introduction
Robin Grieve’s complaint relates to a column published in the New Zealand Herald, Saturday 09 October 2010. Mr Grieve believes the content of the article is inaccurate, unfair and lacks balance.

The complaint is not upheld.

Background
The article by Paul Thomas, a Weekend Herald columnist, related to Paul Henry and his use of humor in the context of Mr Henry’s television show.

The article cited several examples of comments made by Mr Henry that had caused offence within the general public and TVNZ’s overall support for Mr Henry.

Complaint
Mr Grieve believes that the article contained misleading and incorrect information and that Mr Henry’s character is being unfairly portrayed.

Specifically, Mr Grieve states that “Paul Thomas states in his article that Paul Henry called a rather brave Scottish woman [Susan Boyle] a retard”.

He goes on to state that Mr Henry used the word retarded not retard and that the word retarded is an adjective which is the correct use of the word when describing someone who is slow or backward.

Mr Grieve goes further to state that “calling someone a retard is an improper use of a verb and as such is used by people in a derogatory and insulting way”.

Mr Grieve contacted the New Zealand Herald requesting that “they redress this misrepresentation” but his request was declined though “the New Zealand Herald admitted that Paul Henry had not used the term retard”.

Mr Grieve states that “Anyone writing in a newspaper should know the difference in usage of the term retard and retarded. They should know that retard is an improper and insulting term. They should also know that while retarded is not the preferred description for someone who has intellectual challenges it has no where near the same level of offence”.

Response from the New Zealand Herald.
In reply the deputy editor stated that “Mr Grieve seeks to make a distinction between the word “retard” and “retarded” arguing that the former is offensive but the latter is not”. He provided dictionary definitions of both words to show that both are derogatory and offensive.

He goes on to state that there is no material difference between the words and that “retarded’ is arguably the more derogatory and offensive. He states that Mr Henry was “not making an objective statement regarding the singer, he was laughing at her”.

He goes further to state that he believes that Mr Grieve seems to be saying that Mr Henry was not being offensive when using the word retarded and was therefore treated unfairly by the columnist.

The deputy editor provides information relating to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) who upheld complaints relating to Mr Henry’s comments regarding the incident.

He quotes from the BSA decision that “In para 60 it said “the message that viewers would have received was that people with intellectual disabilities can be identified and characterized by certain physical features, and are appropriate subjects for ridicule”.

Discussion and Conclusion
Mr Grieve makes the complaint that the article in question contained incorrect facts and unfairly portrayed Mr Henry.

The article in question does use the word “retard” rather than “retarded” and the New Zealand Herald provides dictionary definitions supporting the premise that both words are offensive and have the same overall meaning.

It is clear to anyone reading the article that it is an opinion piece and the column clearly identifies that it is the opinion of the journalist expressed in an article under his name.

While the columnist did use the word “retard” and Mr Henry used the word “retarded”, regardless of which word is used, both are derogatory and offensive when used to describe another person in the manner used by Mr Henry.

Both words have the same connotation and meaning.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.