VICTORIA TURNBULL AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2562

Council Meeting: JANUARY 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Children and Young People
Confidentiality
Discrimination
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Photographs
Privacy

Overview

Victoria Turnbull complained that an article published online by Stuff breached Principles 2 Privacy, 3 Children and Young People, 7 Discrimination and Diversity, 8 Confidentiality, 11 Photographs and Graphics, 12 Corrections.

Background

On November 3, 2016 Stuff published a story entitled “Government to outlaw school seclusion rooms”, which outlined plans by education minister Hekia Parata to make the use of seclusion rooms in schools illegal, and to release guidance developed by an advisory group so schools had a clear understanding of how to deal with challenging behaviour.

The story was a follow-up to several media reports last year of autistic children being locked in school seclusion rooms alone, for hours at a time.

The story was accompanied by an image of the complainant Mrs Turnbull and her husband, with a caption that named both of them and their son, who was not in the photograph. The photograph was originally taken for a storyThe Southland Times planned to run in February, but which was subsequently dropped.

At Ms Turnbull’s request, the image and caption were removed from the story.

The Complaint

In her complaint, Ms Turnbull says she and her husband were interviewed by The Southland Times in February 2016 for a story regarding their son, a young person who has a disability. The parents were photographed and videoed for the article. The story was, however, not published, at their request, due to legal constraint on some material they had provided.

She says The Southland Times did not make contact with them again, even though issues surrounding their story were reported in other media in October and November. The Turnbulls had elected to remain unnamed in those reports to protect their identity and the identity of their son.

She says that on November 3, a reporter from The Southland Times contacted the Turnbulls regarding new developments in the story, and requested comment from them. Mr Turnbull advised the reporter that they were unable to make any comment at that time as they had made a commitment to another news outlet, but they “would be keen to talk to her the following day”.

The complainant says that later the same day, they discovered that stuff.co.nz had published a story online entitled “Government to outlaw school seclusion rooms”. A photograph taken byThe Southland Times back in February, with a caption that named Mr and Mrs Turnbull and their son, was published as part of the story.

She says the story appeared online shortly after an interview she gave John Campbell on Checkpoint. In the interview she was named, but her husband and son were not.

Mrs Turnbull emailed Natasha Holland, the editor of The Southland Times, and requested their names and the photograph to be removed immediately.

The editor complied with their request but a later Google search revealed that their names still appeared under the headline.

She said the matter involving their son was currently under police investigation; as he is under 16, and may have been the victim of a crime, he has automatic name suppression.

In further correspondence with the Press Council, Ms Turnbull said consent was given for the photograph to be used only for a potential story that was prepared byThe Southland Times in February. She said the couple was allowed to review the story, but having read it, they decided not to go ahead and withdrew their support.

She said that despite heavy media interest, The Southland Times never contacted them again regarding the issue, or their complaint against Ruru Specialist School and their use of a seclusion room, which was being investigated by police.

Further, she questioned whether it was ethical for a news organisation to name a minor who is the possible victim of a crime which is still under police investigation.

The Response

The editor of The Southland Times, Natasha Holland, confirmed that the image published byStuff was taken in February when the Turnbulls were interviewed for a story. The Turnbulls had alleged their son was improperly detained in the seclusion room at Ruru School in Invercargill. The Ministry of Education had investigated the complaint against the school, and a police investigation was ongoing.

The editor says that at the time of the interview the Turnbulls consented to the video interview, to having their photograph taken, and to the use of their name and that of their son. They consented to the use of the image in question.

The Turnbulls subsequently withdrew their support for the story as they were concerned that some written material provided by them was not included in the planned story. The specific material was not able to be published due to legal constraints.

The constraints did not relate to the interview itself, or the images of the Turnbulls.

The editor says that there was no agreement that the newspaper would not publish the material it had gathered during the interview but there was an understanding that once the police investigation was over the newspaper would be back in touch.

In November the issue surrounding seclusion rooms gained further attention after another family spoke publicly of their concerns about their own child.

The editor said that on November 3, a Wellington-based Fairfax journalist reported on the news that the government would outlaw seclusion rooms. The story carried the image the Turnbulls had consented to back in February.

The editor said Mrs Turnbull emailed her later the same night, expressing disappointment that the photo and their names had been published. In her complaint to the editor, Ms Turnbull said, “We are not at all happy that you have named our son. He has a right to privacy that is now blown. You do not have permission to report or publish any of the information previously supplied.”

The editor says that as a result of the complaint and the concerns raised about her son’s privacy, the image and names were immediately removed.

She argued that the story did not breach the relevant Press Council Principles as the image was gathered with consent and used in an appropriate context.

Addressing Principle 2, Privacy, the editor said the Turnbulls consented to the use of the image when it was captured and have spoken publicly to Fairfax Media and other media in relation to their concerns about the use of seclusion rooms, so the subsequent use of the image was not a privacy matter.

On Principle 3, Children and Young People, the editor said the newspaper had sought to work closely with the Turnbulls to ensure special heed was paid to the interests of their son. She had acted quickly to remove the image once she became aware of the Turnbulls’ concerns relating to the caption which named their son. The boy was not in the photograph.

The editor said when she had been alerted to the fact that the family’s names were revealed in a Google search when she received the Press Council complaint, and she had subsequently requested Google amend the search to ensure the family’s name is not connected to the story. Google had confirmed this had been amended.

Further, no charges have been laid in relation to the Turnbulls’ complaint against the school, therefore statutory name suppression does not apply.

On Principle 11, Photographs and Graphics, the editor argued that the parties had consented to the gathering and use of the image. The editor had determined however that there was no strong public interest in the ongoing use of the image that should outweigh the concerns expressed by the family, and had taken steps immediately once they were made aware of the concerns and to the explicit withdrawal of consent.

The Decision

The Response Continued

With regard to Principle 12, Corrections, the editor argued that she had immediately addressed the concerns raised by the complainant, and also to the matter of the Google search when it was raised with the Press Council.

The editor did not believe Principles 7 and 8 are relevant to this complaint.

THE DECISION

The issue concerning the use of seclusion rooms for the purpose of restraining children has received considerable publicity in New Zealand, and the news that the Education Department had announced plans to outlaw the practice is newsworthy and very much in the public interest. Stuff’s story on Hekia Parata’s announcement was timely and relevant.

The family’s dismay at discovering they had been named in the article is however understandable given they had chosen not to be identified in any previous stories on the issue.

There is some disparity in the facts surrounding the phone call by a journalist asking for the Turnbulls for comment on the moves to ban the use of seclusion rooms. Mrs Turnbull believed the call was made by a reporter fromThe Southland Times, which is somewhat at odds with her statement that no one from the paper had ever contacted them after the story was dropped in February. The phone call was in fact made by a Fairfax reporter working out of the Wellington office.

Be that as it may, the Press Council is satisfied the photograph and caption were published in good faith given that the photograph had been taken with the couple’s knowledge, and that they had given their full consent at the time the article was being prepared in February to its use, and the use of all three names in the story. Extra care should have been taken with the caption, however, given that there was a child involved.

Furthermore, the Turnbulls had proved themselves to be willing participants in the story by contactingThe Southland Times in the first place, and by engaging, albeit anonymously, with other media in the intervening months. They had told the Fairfax reporter that they could not comment because they had a commitment with another news organisation, presumably Checkpoint, but would be happy to talk the next day, all of which would suggest they were happy to cooperate with the newspaper. Mrs Turnbull was named in the Checkpoint interview.

The Southland Times editor’s immediate response to the Turnbulls’ email which resulted in removal of the image and caption, and her follow-up later when she was alerted to the Google search that linked the Turnbulls' names to theStuff headline, was commendable.

In our opinion naming the boy in the caption was an honest mistake and The Southland Times andStuff were professional in their handling of the situation. Although the family’s privacy was compromised, which is regrettable, we find there is no breach of any Press Council principles.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Ruth Buddicom, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.