VINCENT CALZONE AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2512

Council Meeting: JUNE 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Headlines and Captions
Privacy
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Vincent Calzone complains that a story, headlined Evicted after dropping the F-bomb and published by theNew Zealand Herald in February, breaches Press Council principles of Privacy, Headlines & Captions and Accuracy, Fairness & Balance.

The complaint is not upheld.

Background

Aucklander Vrnda Torckler was given notice terminating her tenancy in a home where the complainant was landlord.

Ms Torckler said it was because she swore, using the F-word, when the complainant left a gate open at the property and her dog got loose.

She said the swearing was not her normal behaviour and occurred out of frustration with the situation. He said, though, that it was symptomatic of a personality type he didn’t want in his house.

The Herald story quoted both sides of the dispute, as well as carrying general comment from the Auckland Property Investors’ Association.

It also featured text messages between Ms Torckler and Mr Calzone about the circumstances and behaviour that lead to what theHerald described as her ‘eviction’.

The Complaint

Mr Calzone argues the text message exchange was incomplete, private and the Herald did not seek his permission to use it, or notify him that it would be published.

The Herald’s publication of the complainant’s name was also done without permission or knowledge and caused him reputational damage.

The reporter having the complainant’s cell number, and phoning him on it, was done without permission.

References to the dog escape in the story were incorrect or incomplete.

In what the complainant describes as the worst aspect of the story, the Herald referred to Ms Torckler as being ‘evicted’. Only the Tenancy Tribunal can order eviction so the suggestion he had done so was defamatory. Instead, he had given the tenant three months’ notice to leave.

The tenant’s swearing was excessive and a ‘symptom if an underlying personality disorder’.

It was the intention of the tenant to use the NZ Herald to defame the complainant.

The Response

The text messages sent from Mr Calzone to Ms Torckler did not carry any requirement of confidentiality. The tenant was a party to the communications and it was her decision to make them public.

The thread of texts was not edited by the NZ Herald to omit messages that might show the complainant in good light.

As the correctly identified landlord of the relevant property, the NZ Herald did not require Mr Calzone’s permission to name him.

There was no evidence to support claims that the elements of the story about the dog escape were incorrect or incomplete.

Use of the word ‘evicted’ was colloquial, rather than technical, and readers would have understood that.

The Herald reporter did not require permission to have the complainant’s phone number and, in fact, used it to obtain balance in their reporting.

Although the Herald accepted that everyone was entitled to a reasonable degree of privacy that did not equate to ‘a right not to be mentioned in the news’.

There was public interest in a story where a tenancy had been terminated on the basis of a tenant’s use of language being found offensive by the landlord.

The Decision

In the first instance, the Council does not rule on legal matters and the complainant’s suggestion he was defamed will not be considered.

Typically where there is a suggestion of defamation action, the Council requires a waiver from the complainant before considering the complaint. Although this was not forthcoming, the editor was willing for the complaint to proceed.

The Council does, however, rule on alleged breaches of its principles.

In regards to Headlines & Captions, the headline on the story appropriately conveyed the substance of the story.

As far as the Accuracy, Fairness and Balance of the story is concerned, there has been nothing provided by the complainant that leads the Council to find a breach.

The reporter accurately articulated the tenant’s views, and the landlord’s version of events was not dissimilar, other than a passing suggestion that there were some elements of the story about the dog which were untrue.

The Council hasn’t been provided anything contrary to the fact the landlord left the gate open and the dog escaped. This understandably frustrated the tenant and, in the panic that ensued, she swore. It seems this language was uncharacteristic and, even if it wasn’t, it would be considered unfair by most reasonable people to terminate a tenancy based on it.

It is not unreasonable to describe the termination of a tenancy agreement, particularly in these circumstances, as an eviction.

The complainant was able to provide the Council with a more complete transcript of the tenant/landlord text exchange than that which was published by theHerald.

Unfortunately for the complainant, the full version does not paint him in any better light than the abridged version.

It does, however, support the story of the dog escaping in that the complainant agrees to keep the gate closed on future visits to the property. Additionally, it supports the claim that the tenancy termination resulted from Ms Torckler’s behaviour and swearing on the day.

Lastly, in regards to the complainant’s privacy, the Council does not agree it has been breached. The tenant was entitled to provide communications addressed to and received by her to theNZ Herald. And the Herald was entitled to publish them.

Additionally, there is no requirement for a media organisation to seek permission to have a telephone number, or to call it, or to then to name the person they interview as a result of the phone call. It is seeking balance for a story which the Council agrees was in the public interest and, as such, the Herald should be commended for its standard of reporting in this case.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Vernon Small, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

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