New Zealand Law Society - Protection of children is paramount says Press Council

Protection of children is paramount says Press Council

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The Press Council says that when children are included in a photograph for public use, permission should be obtained first.

The advice was given in a decision where the Council did not uphold a complaint against the New Zealand Herald over an article which included a photograph of a mother, who had a protection order in place, and her children.  

The complainant, the mother, alleges that two Press Council principles were breached: privacy and confidentiality.

The article concerned the amount of rain that had fallen across New Zealand since January 2017. In the photograph used the woman and one of her children are holding umbrellas. It was taken in a public place in August 2017 by a Herald photographer.

The complainant has a protection order in place and therefore would not have agreed to the photograph being taken, “…but [the] fact that your photographer did not ask if it was ok and if he did he would have found out I would have refused due to the fact there is a Protection Order out,” she said in her letter to the newspaper.

She expressed concern for her family’s safety, “You could only [imagine] how I might be feeling right now with the facts of this may now open a big can of worms around the safety of my family.”

Following contact by the complainant The Herald removed the image from its website.

The newspaper explained to the Press Council that as the photographer was some distance away, taking the photo with long lens, he was not in a position to approach the woman for her details. The Herald also noted that the location was not identified.

In its decision, the Press Council noted that the photograph was taken in a public place where privacy expectations are reduced. The Council also notes The Herald’s responsible and immediate action in removing the photo from the online story and its archives once the particulars of this case were made known to them.

“As the photographer had not obtained consent, perhaps the complainant and her children could have been made less prominent in the image,” the decision says.

The Council felt that, while the publication of the photo made the complainant feel vulnerable due to the protection order, there was very little detail that identifies exactly where the photograph was taken. It therefore did not uphold this complaint.

The Council does, however, highlight that wherever possible, when children are involved, the photographer ought to obtain consent. The Council acknowledges that the children are identifiable and the protection of children is a paramount consideration.

SPCA’s complaint about fairness dismissed

The Press Council says a report on the SPCA’s confiscation of a dog in Christchurch was fair and balanced

The Press’ news report was largely based on the dog owner’s description of events. The story confirmed that under the Animal Welfare Act, SPCA inspectors can enter properties without a warrant and can take an animal if necessary.

The SPCA Canterbury complained the report provided only one side of the story and it caused considerable distress to SPCA staff. Although a second story published three days later provided more comment and context, the SPCA says that this did not excuse the breaches in the first story.

The Press said it sought comment from the SPCA but was told it could not comment until an investigation was completed. The Press said is common practice to write about issues while they are under investigation, and charitable organisations like the SPCA, which rely on public funding, cannot expect to be above scrutiny because of their status.

The Press Council agreed the journalist did everything required of him: he requested a comment from the SPCA to balance the accusations of the dog’s owner, and explained in the story the SPCA’s powers under the Animal Welfare Act. The second story, published three days later, provided comment and background context.  Accordingly, the complaint was not upheld.