Case Number: 878

Council Meeting: MAY 2002

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Otago Daily Times

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Court Reporting
Offensive Language

Ted Humphries complained about an article in the Otago Daily Times dated 25 January 2002. The article reports a sentencing in the Dunedin District Court of the defendant who pleaded guilty to fraudulently cashing 18 cheques belonging to an elderly woman.

Mr Humphries, the husband of the defendant, makes three complaints. Firstly he complains that the article was in large print alongside other reports entitled Dunedin District Court, and below an article with the headline “Policewoman gives eyewitness account of shooting”. Mr Humphries maintains that this positioning shows lack of balance in the reporting of the case which shows that the reporting was tacky and sensationalist and unbalanced.

Secondly Mr Humphries complains that the opening paragraph states that a paid caregiver “ripped off” an elderly woman with Alzheimers. Mr Humphries maintains that as the words “ripped off” were never used in Court, they should not have been used in the report.

Thirdly Mr Humphries contests the statement that about 30 hours work was covered by the cheques but, because she could not prove the hours, the defendant had arranged to repay the full amount sought by reparation. Mr Humphries maintains that this reporting was biased and unbalanced. He maintains that the reporter should have told both sides of the story.

In response to Mr Humphries complaint, the editor of the Otago Daily Times rejects the first complaint. He maintains the article was presented in a fashion no different from many others published on a daily basis. He rejects the complaint of the reporting being tacky and sensationalist.

The second complaint of the use of the phrase “ripped off” describes, maintains the editor, the events which took place.

In response to Mr Humphries third complaint, that the reporter was only telling one side of the story by referring to the 30 hours work, the editor states that the source of that the source of that information was the lawyer acting for the defendant. In court the defendant’s lawyer acts and speaks for the defendant.

In respect of the second complaint, if the words ripped off describe the situation they could be used without the speech marks. The use of speech marks implies a quotation and can cause confusion.

The Council is of the opinion that the article clearly described the Court’s proceedings. The District Court was a court session open to any member of the public or media. An application for permanent name suppression was rejected and there is nothing to stop the press reporting a plea of guilty and the sentencing that flowed from that.

The complaint was not upheld.