ANDREW LENSEN AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2912

Council Meeting: JUNE 2020

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Photographs

Overview

[1] On 9 April 2020 Stuff published a story about a dog being run over by a man on a motorbike on a shared Kapiti Coast cycleway and footpath. One of the owners had been filming the rider, because motorbikes were not allowed on the path, and provided video of the incident, which Stuff ran with the story. The story also reported concerns about trailbike riders flouting lockdown laws and endangering cyclists and pedestrians.

The Complaint

[2] Andrew Lensen complained that the video was distressing and breached Principle 11 which states in part: “Photographs showing distressing or shocking situations should be handled with special consideration for those affected.”

[3] The dog could be heard yelping in pain after being hit by the motorbike, which was distressing for anyone who cared about animal welfare, he said. Many people found violence towards animals particularly upsetting because of the defencelessness and innocence of domestic animals. Publishing the video, especially without a warning, was completely irresponsible, Dr Lensen said.

The Response

[4] Stuff apologised to Dr Lensen for failing to reply to his complaint within the 10 working days’ time limit. A reply had in fact been sent within the time limit, but it was part of a long chain of emails and was mistakenly sent to the wrong person.

[5] Stuff responded that they reflected life, both good and bad, and that it was in the public interest for the video to be shown. It had been provided by the dog’s owners who wanted to publicise the man’s “abhorrent actions” and hoped the video would help identify him. There was also strong interest at the time in breaches of lockdown rules, Stuff said.

[6] There was a short yelp heard from the dog, but the noise was largely lost in the general chaos of the incident, Stuff said. The video did not show any images of the dog being harmed and the injuries turned out to be relatively minor, so a warning was not deemed necessary.

[7] In his final response, Dr Lensen said Stuff could have easily published the story for public interest purposes without the video. He also said the opinion of the dog’s owners about whether the video should be published was irrelevant. “It is not reasonable to test the offensiveness of media by asking permission of those who may see its publication as a way to find the offender.” He disagreed that the injuries were presented as relatively minor in the story as the dog was badly bruised and required sedation by a vet.

The Decision

[8] The Council acknowledges Dr Lensen’s concerns about violence towards animals and how upsetting viewing animal cruelty can be. But it agrees with Stuff that there was public interest in showing the video, as it could have led to the person, who appeared to deliberately veer towards the dog before hitting it, being identified. The fact that the dog’s owners wanted the video played was only a minor consideration and did not absolve Stuff of making its own decision about the suitability of the video. However the video did not show the dog actually being hit, and although the dog’s yelp of distress would have been upsetting to many people, it was partly lost in the surrounding commotion. The story’s headline also made it clear the story was about a dog being hit by a motorbike, which would have alerted viewers to the likely content of the video. In this case a specific warning about the video was not required.

The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon. Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Pravina Singh, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.