The Media Council says to protect a young man an article about a schoolboy rugby incident should not have been published online where comments are easily able to be posted.
Melanie Riwai-Couch complained against the New Zealand Herald and Stuff about stories relating to an incident at a schools rugby championship match.
During the match a red card was issued to a player. A video of the incident was published on the Herald and Stuff websites and Facebook pages and they reported that the offence was for stomping on the head of an opposing player and punching another player shortly afterwards. While the 16-year-old wasn’t named, he was easily identifiable. A rugby judiciary hearing some weeks later found that there had been foot connection with a shoulder and a punch but no head stomping.
There were online comments on the Facebook postings, many highly critical of him and some very hurtful. The New Zealand Herald removed the story shortly afterwards. Stuff did not take down the story but did delete some of the comments after being alerted to them by Dr Riwai-Couch.
The Media Council found any teenager would be expected to suffer from the media reports and comments. It also found a public interest in reporting and condemning violence in sport, especially in rugby, and especially among young players.
The council noted that it may not always be in the interests of a young person approaching adulthood to be protected against the consequences of their actions, but he or she should be protected against disproportionate consequences.
The reporting of the incident was factual, it was not sensational and it did not demonise the player. It was in the public interest. This aspect of the complaint was not upheld.
However, the council said the same could not be said of the comments that were posted on the Facebook page. The nature of online social media comments is now well known and the New Zealand Herald and Stuff must have been aware that it was exposing a young person to the likelihood of disproportionate abuse and vilification.
The Media Council upheld the complaint under Principle 3 which protects the interests of children and young persons. It says the story should never have been posted on Facebook.
The story was also published by TVNZ, and this formed part of Dr Riwai-Couch’s complaint but the council did not uphold this part of the complaint.