Sarah Ferguson — not the Duchess, but a New Zealand woman — complained over an article in the New Zealand Herald, which reported on her son’s death in a workplace accident.
Ferguson argued the newspaper’s coverage featured a lack of balance, an invasion of privacy, and a conflict of interest, among other ethical breaches. The November 2017 article was headlined, “Exclusive: Death in the workplace – ‘I can’t put it right, money can’t put it right.'”
Ferguson’s son, Jamey Lee Bowring, died at 24. He was “killed after the 100,000-litre fuel tank he was welding at Salter’s Cartage, a South Auckland waste removal company, exploded on September 15, 2015,” the Herald reported in a separate article. The company and its owner were fined for breaches of safety regulations.
Ferguson also complained that the argument was unbalanced by presenting only one side of the story, that of Ronald Salter, who owned the company where her son worked. Salter was “able to state his untrue opinion – re facts of that day and the lead up to the day,” Ferguson told the council, adding that she wasn’t contacted prior to publication.
Ferguson argued that the article invaded privacy by reporting on a private conversation in which Salter said he was going to establish a scholarship in Bowring’s name, and violated guidelines for reporting on children because her other son and her son’s friends were under 18 and upset by the coverage. Ferguson alleged a conflict of interest asking if “a PR company was hired by Ronald Salter and whether there was any payment for writing the article,” the council reported.
The newspaper defended its reporting, saying it tried to contact Ferguson via Facebook and couldn’t find her phone number in public records. Further, the Herald said “there was no PR company hired by Salter – or any other PR company – involved in this story” and that it didn’t pay Salter for its interview.
The press council agreed with Ferguson’s complaint that the newspaper didn’t give her family a “fair voice” to respond to the article. “The Facebook message was sent one week before the article was published, so there was an opportunity to attempt to contact Ms Ferguson through other communication channels and while we acknowledge that there had been an attempt unfortunately the efforts did not extend far enough,” the press council ruled.
iMediaEthics has written to Ferguson for her response to the ruling. The Herald’s editor Murray Kirkness told iMediaEthics, “We have nothing further to add to our response to the NZ Press Council as per its complaints process.”
“By including comment from Jamey Bowring’s family this could have brought accuracy in relation to the points raised within the article, it also might have offered fairness in offering the family’s view and it might have provided balance in the different perspectives held by the wider parties who were affected by Jamey’s death,” it continued.
Concerning invasion of privacy, the press council rejected the complaint because since the New Zealand Herald wasn’t part of the confidential meeting, it wasn’t bound to the confidentiality. “The responsibility for any breach lies with the person discussing any content of the restorative justice meeting and not the NZ Herald,” the press council ruled. All of the other complaints — children and young people, comment and fact, conflict of interest, misrepresentation, deception or subterfuge, privacy, and unfair coverage” were also rejected.
The Herald’s article now carries a note at the top saying “This article has been found to have contravened the Press Council principle in relation to accuracy, fairness and balance. The full decision can be read here or at the bottom of this article.”