WENDY ALLISON AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2359

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2013

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Columnists

Introduction
1. There are two complaints, by Wendy Allison and Brendon Blue, about a Bob Jones column published in the New Zealand Herald on 22 October 2013, ‘Spare us from road-clogging women’. The complaints are not upheld.

Background
2. In his column Bob Jones claimed that ‘terrified’ women drivers were stopping at roundabouts and causing ‘massive pile-ups’ and delays. They were also blocking the free flow of traffic by persistently driving in the right-hand lane.
3. As for people who complained about him weaving around the women drivers, he said he had suggested to police that they would be ‘doing God’s work by going to the complainants’ homes, beating the crap out of them and burning their houses down’.

Complaint
4. Ms Allison said the column contributed to a culture in New Zealand of sexism and misogynist violence. It incited violence against women and amounted to hate speech.
5. The attitudes expressed by Jones were common in New Zealand; they were damaging and contributed to discrimination against women. As such as they were in breach of the Press Council’s principle dealing with discrimination.
6. She says the media has a role in influencing cultural attitudes, but the Herald was condoning this negative culture by publishing the column.
7. Mr Blue complained that the column was misleading, discriminatory, perpetuated negative and inaccurate stereotypes. As such, it breached Press Council principles dealing with fairness, accuracy and balance and discrimination.
8. Its representation of women drivers was inaccurate because data suggests that women may be superior drivers. He accepted that the column represented Sir Robert’s opinion, but this did not allow him to mislead readers by omitting information that contradicted his view – namely official accident statistics which Mr Blue supplied to the Press Council.
9. He said the column explicitly and wilfully condoned violence against women and appeared threatening, abusive and insulting. Like Ms Allison he said the column bordered on hate speech.
10. Mr Blue sought an apology from the Herald for publishing the column and asked the newspaper to review Sir Robert’s continued employment as a columnist.

Newspaper’s Response
11. Editor of the New Zealand Herald Shayne Currie says, clearly, Sir Robert had an issue with women drivers, but not all women drivers.
12. His comments were his opinion, based on his observations over the past 20 to 30 years and he had attempted to relate these in a humorous way. He accepted some people would not share Sir Robert’s sense of humour. He was known as a provocative and forthright newspaper columnist and commentator and his column had to be read in that light.
13. The letter he said he sent to police over complaints about him weaving around women drivers was not intended to be serious, and was not taken by police to be serious. Mr Currie said neither Sir Robert nor the Herald condoned violence against women.
14. He stood by Sir Robert’s right to freedom of speech and expression.

Discussion
15. The Press Council has set a high bar for dealing with complaints involving opinions expressed by columnists. This is because freedom to express even offensive views is crucial to any democratic society. Ms Allison has found the column offensive, seeing it as potentially damaging and discriminatory against women.
16. This goes too far. The column uses hyperbole to revisit the well-worn refrain that women can’t drive cars properly. Ms Allison is entitled to say it is drivel, which she has done.
17. Regarding Mr Blue’s complaint, Sir Robert is not misrepresenting traffic accident statistics – he is ignoring them. Rather he is expressing an opinion based on his observations that women drivers don’t know what to do at roundabouts and tend to drive slowly in the fast lane.
18. The tone is one of exaggeration and hyperbole and would be recognised as such by regular readers of the column. It revisits the well-worn refrain that women can’t drive cars properly. Sir Robert is entitled to believe that and to say it publicly – and surprisingly there may still be some who agree with him.
19. Neither complaint is upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Clive Lind and Stephen Stewart.
John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.