VLADIMIR SHAPKIN AGAINST NZHERALD ONLINE

Case Number: 2285

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2012

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Offensive Language
Taste Lack of
Other

Introduction
Vladimir Shapkin's complaint relates to an Associated Press-produced news video shown on nzherald at
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/video.cfm?c_id=2&gal_objectid=10827955&gallery_id=127367

The video, which lasts approximately one and a half minutes, is about the controversy surrounding the Russian feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, and their arrest after performing a protest song in Moscow's main cathedral; a performance said to have been aimed at President Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church. The clip of the performance shown, which is in Russian, lasts about twenty seconds.

The complaint is not upheld

The Complaint
Vladimir Shapkin requested that the video should be removed on the grounds of being 'extremely offensive' in showing 'a sacriligious act'. This appears to be the heart of his complaint, though he suggests, perhaps believing it strengthens his case, that had the incident happened in Rome or Israel the women would, too, have been jailed, and had it happened in a Muslim country they would have been killed.
He said a previous performance of Pussy Riot, such as one at a zoo, could have been used instead.
In Mr Shapkin's comments on the Herald's reply he placed particular weight on the cathedral being a memorial to fallen soldiers of 1812, and argues that a news story of comparable treatment to a New Zealand memorial to fallen soldiers would be deeply offensive to New Zealanders.

The NZ Herald Reply
The Herald rejected 'the notion that the video should be withdrawn because it is offensive and sacrilegious', while accepting that some people could find it so. They claimed it was 'a fair and balanced piece of news journalism, albeit on a subject which some people may find disturbing or offensive', and argued that it is 'fair to show some footage of the concert in order to explain the story to viewers'.

Discussion.
The Russian presidential election campaign aroused widespread interest worldwide. The performance by Pussy Riot probably needs to be seen within this context, and it is for this reason that its reporting is a legitimate news story. The video is a reasonably balanced piece of news journalism. Other performances by the band are not relevant, nor are hypothetical questions of what might happen if a similar performance was given in other cultures.
Mr Shapkin is right, however, in claiming that the performance was sacriligious, and one can certainly accept that some would find it deeply offensive. But the time given on the video to the performance was brief, without gratuitous dwelling on what some would see as its offensive nature; the report as a whole was balanced, and in the overall context of an important political development, the video was useful in giving the viewer of fuller understanding of the issues. We must, perhaps, accept that in understanding the world we will at times be offended, horrified, appalled. The more honest the reporting, the worse it may be.

The complaint is not upheld.

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

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