MENZ Issues

Successful Complaint to Press Council

A representative of the Ministry of Men’s Affairs has achieved a small success in a recent complaint to the NZ Herald about this article (that the Herald has now amended). Although the Herald probably won’t concede the important matters regarding misrepresentation of Protection Orders, failing to identify its real victims in most cases (i.e. the respondents), the nature of most breaches and the lack of balance by reporting only the comments of female supporters of the Protection Order regime, even so the exercise has required this editor to become aware that his paper is misleading the public and that MoMA, on behalf of NZ men, is watching. If anyone can be bothered, a follow up email to that editor would help bring home men’s concerns and a more realistic knowledge about Protection Orders. Following is the main correspondence:

From … PO Box 13130, Tauranga 3141; Phone (07)5712435 or (0274)799745
Complaint Regarding Article: Family Violence: Huge numbers of protection order breaches ‘tip of iceberg’
Published Wednesday August 10, 2016
I complain that this article breached the following principle of the New Zealand Press Council:
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance

1. The article at the outset claimed “New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the world”. This claim is fallacious. Although variations of this claim have been made by several groups based on one analysis with respect to only ‘developed’ countries, many other studies contradict even that analysis and no other studies support it. Regardless, there is absolutely no evidence supporting the article’s claim with respect to ‘the world’. The claim was a careless extrapolation from others’ inaccurate claims. The author Ms Tait need only to have undertaken a short internet search to find no evidence for her claim but a lot of evidence against it.
For example, the readily available news release from the World Health Organisation dated 20 June 2013, titled ‘Violence against women: a ‘global health problem of epidemic proportions’: New clinical and policy guidelines launched to guide health sector response’, states:

Regional data
The report represents data regionally according to WHO regions.
For intimate partner violence, the type of violence against women for which more data were available, the worst affected regions were:
South-East Asia – 37.7% prevalence. Based on aggregated data from Bangladesh, Timor-Leste (East Timor), India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand.
Eastern Mediterranean – 37% prevalence. Based on aggregated data from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine.
Africa – 36.6% prevalence. Based on aggregated data from Botswana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

New Zealand is not even included in this list of the 28 worst affected countries, much less shown to have ‘the worst rate in the world’. Ms Tait’s claim amounts to false propaganda likely to create unnecessary fear and mistrust in the NZ population. Even though the NZ Herald might imagine it is promoting a ‘good cause’ and this justifies the careless spreading of false propaganda, this cannot be acceptable under the Press Council standards.

2. The article stated “A protection order is a court-imposed sanction to keep an offender away from their victims…”
This statement is inaccurate, misleading and likely to cause readers to gain a faulty understanding of the topic. A protection order is a court-imposed order for a respondent to stay away from an applicant and any other persons named. The use of the terms ‘offender’ and ‘victims’ implies that Protection Order respondents have committed criminal offences. This is misleading and likely to cause the public to have unrealistic fear and beliefs about those who have Protection Orders against them. The process of making a Protection Order in no way establishes or seeks to establish whether anyone has committed a criminal offence or has been the victim of one. Protection orders are more often than not made on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations about perfectly legal behaviour. Even then, no evidence apart from an allegation is required, and no reliable standard of proof is applied regarding the truth of allegations. Moreover, no allegation of ‘offending’ or wrongdoing at all is required for Protection Orders to be made. They can be made without any allegation of wrongdoing but simply on the basis of an applicant’s claim to be frightened. The wording of the Domestic Violence Act 1995 allows almost unbridled scope for a Family Court to impose a Protection Order as follows:
Section 13(2): Without limiting the matters to which the court may have regard when determining whether to grant a protection order on an application without notice, the court must have regard to—
(a) the perception of the applicant or a child of the applicant’s family, or both, of the nature and seriousness of the respondent’s behaviour; and
(b) the effect of that behaviour on the applicant or a child of the applicant’s family, or both.
The use of the terms ‘offender’ and ‘victims’ instead of the accurate terms ‘respondent’ and ‘applicants’ was inaccurate and unfair to Protection Order respondents.

3. While numbers of breaches were reported there was insufficient description of breaches for readers to gain a realistic understanding of what such breaches entail. This was compounded by the inaccurate use of the terms ‘offenders’ and ‘victims’, implying that breaches involved acts of violence of varying degrees. In fact, most breaches involve no violence at all, many are innocent or well-intentioned (such as waving at one’s children going by in a car) and many involve respondents being set up through being invited by the applicant to meet then being accused of a breach. Most other breaches, even if deliberate or malicious, are trivial. The article’s insufficient information and inaccurate portrayal were likely to cause readers to develop unrealistic beliefs about those accused or convicted of breaching Protection Orders. This breached standards of accuracy and fairness especially towards those accused or convicted of breaching Protection Orders. There was simply no need to provide such an inaccurate portrayal and it would have been a simple matter for the Herald to ensure the article provided a realistic picture about the range of actual behaviour constituting breaches.

4. Those interviewed and their comments reported were all proponents of Protection Orders and in favour of punishing respondents. There was no comment from respondents or those accused of breaches, or from men’s rights advocates, or indeed from any man at all. Given that a huge proportion of Protection Orders are made against men and seriously deprive them and their children of many normal civil rights, this amounted to a serious lack of balance.

The Herald replied with the following patronizing fob-off:

Dear …
I refer to your complaint (below) and respond to your points as follows:

1. You dispute the line “New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the world”. This has been previously reported and comes from information as per the link below. I note Minister Amy Adams is quoted as saying “We have the highest reported rate of intimate partner violence in the developed world and the fifth highest reported rate of child abuse.”
https://consultations.justice.govt.nz/policy/family-violence-law/user_uploads/fv-consultation-discussion-document-v2.pdf

2. You say it is inaccurate that “A protection order is a court-imposed sanction to keep an offender away from their victims…”. In most cases, we would argue that people who have protection orders against them are offenders and the people who take them out are victims.

3. You say there was “insufficient description of breaches”. We didn’t have detail on what each of those breaches related to/why there were taken out. This was not included in our OIA and we would argue the lack of such detail did not in anyway detract from our report.

4. You say there “was no comment from respondents or those accused of breaches, or from men’s rights advocates, or indeed from any man at all”. We do not know any of the men who had the breaches taken out against them. The OIA was anonymised.

Readers do have recourse to make their own views known to the newspaper and the wider public, and to that end I would politely urge you to express your views in a letter to the editor, or via an opinion piece of your own.

Yours faithfully,
Murray Kirkness
Weekday editor
The New Zealand Herald

The complaint was then sent to the Press Council, following which the Herald capitulated on the main (but not the most important) aspects of the complaint, as follows:

Mary Major
Executive Director
New Zealand Press Council
PO Box 10 879
The Terrace
Wellington

September 22, 2016

Dear Mrs Major,
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the complaint to the Press Council by … regarding the level of family and intimate-partner violence in New Zealand as contained in our report on protection order breaches as published August 10.

We will amend online the paragraph that reads “New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the world” to read “New Zealand has the highest reported rate of intimate partner violence in the developed world and the fifth highest reported rate of child abuse, according to Justice Minister Amy Adams”. We will append a statement of correction to the online article and a similar correction will be published in print. I trust this will resolve the complaint.

Through you, I would apologise to … that the correction was not made upon receipt of the initial complaint.

Yours faithfully,
MURRAY KIRKNESS
WEEKDAY EDITOR NEW ZEALAND HERALD

D: 09­ 373­ 6400­ ex­tn­ 98564 M: 0275­ 252­ 070
E: murray.kirkness@nzherald.co.nz