STANLEY DSOUZA AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2414

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2015

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Taste Lack of
Accuracy
Defamation/Damaging To Reputation

Stanley Dsouza complained about a report in the New Zealand Herald concerning the imminent release of a film entitled Exodus: Gods and Kings. He was particularly concerned at the report's descriptions of Moses, a central character in the film. The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.
The Complaint
The report, based on an internationally syndicated article from The Observer newspaper, appeared in the Herald on December 1, 2014. Mr Dsouza was upset that two complaint emails he sent to NZ Herald publications were not answered. Nor had he had responses to previous letters of complaint about other matters.
He then complained to the Press Council, saying the published "Exodus" report was a libel against the Bible and thus to the God that he served. It was insensitive and coarse. The narrative of the Exodus was factual, because Biblical revelation was factual.
He backed up his claims with quotes from the Bible and said that archaeology was imperfect. A major challenge in reconstructing an accurate view of history was that, through the ages, most negative or embarrassing evidence was never written down or was intentionally destroyed by later rulers. Many scientists did not want to acknowledge anything that could even suggest the existence of God.
The Response
The Press Council's receipt of the complaint resulted in the matter being referred to the NZ Herald, whereupon the newspaper responded to Mr Dsouza. The Herald said the complaint was sent to the wrong email addresses. Its reply stated that the report did not breach any Press Council principles and was from an internationally syndicated source (The Observer).
NZ Herald editor Shayne Currie said it was a fair and balanced news feature which reported - in the lead-up to the new movie - on the historical debate over Moses' existence. He invited the complainant to submit a letter to the editor on the topic, which would be considered for publication.
Mr Dsouza declined the offer.
Press Council Decision
The complainant suggested the report had breached four Press Council Principles (Accuracy Fairness and Balance, Comment and Fact, Headlines and Captions, Discrimination and Diversity).
Headlined "Moses – more myth than a man?" the report is, however, an objective account about the film. It can be summed up in the following two sentences from its second paragraph: "What light does it cast on the historical figure of Moses? The rather surprising answer is: none."
The report explores the biblical tale from religious and academic viewpoints. Comparing the Moses story with that of an Egyptian pharoah, Akhenaten, the first monotheist known to history, the report quotes a historian: "Moses is a figure of memory, whereas Akhenaten is a figure of history, but not memory."
It also says that having little historical evidence for biblical narratives is not the same as having none, adding that the story of the exodus has a power entirely independent of its historical truth.
"For many, regardless of whether he existed, Moses is as alive today as he ever was."
The Press Council does not consider that any of the principles cited have been breached. The complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Chris Darlow, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.
John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.