Complaint of misrepresentation of Ardern on abortion upheld

A complaint about misleading election advertising that misrepresented Jacinda Ardern’s views and Labour policy on abortion has been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

ODT (NZME): ASA rules Ardern Facebook ad misleading

A complaint against a sponsored Facebook post making it appear Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would end child poverty by having children aborted has been upheld.

The Make New Zealand Great Again Party posted a picture of Ardern on the social media website with the statement “My Labour Party will end child poverty through abortion. No children. No poverty”.

The statement was in quotation marks, which prompted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Quotation marks made it seem as if Ardern had actually said those words, they said.

“[Ardern] has never made the statement that this picture attempts to say she has made.

“This misrepresentation of Jacinda Ardern is clearly factually incorrect and misleading to the viewers of the advertisement.”

The ASA’s complaints board ruled agreed, and said there was no evidence provided to support the impression made that Ardern was being directly quoted.

It breached three parts of the code of ethics and the complaint was therefore upheld by the board.

When advertisements are classed as advocacy, expression of opinion is allowed provided the expression of opinion is robust and clearly distinguishable from fact and the identity of the advertiser was clear.

The sponsored post for the Make New Zealand Great Again Party also said: “New Zealand Labour Party will literally kill child poverty! But remember they are all about ‘the children’, nothing about parental responsibility!”

There were other misrepresentations on abortion during the campaign. NZH on 11 September: Labour leader Jacinda Ardern tackles ‘smear campaign’ on abortion stance

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern says she’s the victim of a deliberate misinformation campaign about her stance on abortion.

The question of where she drew the line was raised during her interview on this morning’s Newstalk ZB leaders breakfast segment with Larry Williams.

Family First NZ’s Bob McCoskrie asked if Ardern would personally endorse Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand’s preferred new law, based on a Canadian model that would seek to legalise abortion on demand up till birth.

Ardern did not shy away from the question but used it to clear up what she said had been misleading information about her views.

“There has been a huge amount of misinformation and my image has been used inappropriately with that misinformation.

“Yes I think abortion should come out of the Crimes Act. That does not mean for a moment that I am proposing what has been claimed, that you should be able to have on demand abortion till birth.”

What Ardern said she wanted was to remove abortion from the Crimes Act and have it put within a regulated context that made sure it was safe.

She categorically denied supporting abortion till birth.

“They have said till 40 weeks, which is wrong, which is wrong. We have time periods already set out in law, I’m not proposing changes to that. I’m proposing it comes out of the Crimes Act.”

Current abortion practices sidestep the law, but requires women (and girls) to make non-genuine statements of harm. And it doesn’t always allow abortions –  in the past decade close to 1500 women have been refused an abortion by the state.

Hundreds of “not justified abortion” certificates were handed out to pregnant Kiwi women in 2016.

Even as the overall abortion rate has trended down since 2010, the number of women told their abortion would not be “justified” has remained steady.

Abortion is technically a crime in New Zealand. Two certified medical practitioners must deem the abortion medically necessary or justified for it to be legal, but in practice the law is routinely subverted by both doctors and patients.

Last year, 252 “not justified abortion” certificates were issued. Close to 1500 have been handed out this decade.

Legal grounds to justify abortion include danger to physical or mental health of the mother and the possibility of having a mentally disabled child. Rape is not legally grounds for an abortion.

From a leaders’ debate on 4 September – Jacinda Ardern: Abortion ‘shouldn’t be a crime’

During the Newshub debate on Monday night, Ardern said she would change the law if she became Prime Minister.

“It shouldn’t be in the Crimes Act. People need to be able to make their own decision.”

“People need to be able to make their own decisions,” said Ardern.

“I want women who want access to be able to have it as a right.”

More from Newshub: Abortion law-change would come down to conscience vote – Jacinda Ardern

On Tuesday, Ms Ardern told the AM Show a conscience vote, where MPs can vote based on their views rather than along party lines, would still allow MPs to keep their personal viewpoints.

“It will still be a conscience vote. We’ll draft the bill but, for instance, Bill English would still be able to vote with his conscience.”

She says she expects some of those within her own caucus would also oppose the bill, but thinks “there will be a majority of parliament that think, actually in 2017, women shouldn’t face being criminals for accessing their own rights”.

“That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have regulation that sits around it but we just don’t think it should be in the Crimes Act.”

Under current law abortion is a criminal act, except that women can obtain an abortion at under 20 weeks’ gestation under the following scenarios:

  • if the pregnancy is a risk to the physical or mental health of the mother
  • if there’s a substantial risk that the child would be “seriously handicapped”
  • if the child is a result of incest
  • if the women is “severely subnormal”.

It is time that the law was brought into line with common practice and supported the rights of those who become pregnant.

While abortions are fairly freely available in practice the number of them are decreasing.

NZH: Abortion rate drops to lowest in 25 years

The general abortion rate – abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44 – was 13.5 per 1000 women in 2016, down from 14.2 in 2015.

Statistics NZ reported that the abortion rates for younger women have fallen significantly in recent years whereas the rate has stayed the same for older women.

Women aged 20-24 have more abortions than any other age group, accounting for about 28 per cent of abortions in 2016.

However, the abortion rate for women in this age group dropped from a peak of 41 abortions per 1000 women in 2003, to 21 per 1000 in 2016.

Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond said the drop was partially due to the increase in women using long acting reversible contraception like the implant and the IUD. They were more effective as they weren’t as exposed to human error.

She also thought youth were getting good access to sexual education information and services and choosing to wait longer before their first sexual experience which helped reduce unwanted pregnancies.

Abortion by the numbers

  • ​In 2016, there were 12,823 induced abortions, 332 fewer than the previous year.
  • Nearly 18 % of known pregnancies ended in an abortion.
  • The highest recorded abortion ratio was in 2003, with 25% known pregnancies ending in abortion.
  • Most abortions, 64%, were a woman’s first abortion and 57% of abortions were performed before the 10th week of the pregnancy.

So reforming the abortion laws would be timely and looks unlikely to result in an increase in the number of abortions.

Press council versus Matt Heath

In April there was some controversy when two Radio Hauraki hosts ridiculed English cricket player Ben Stokes, then when Stokes’ mother rang up to complain they broadcast it live but told her it was off air.

One of the hosts, Matt Heath, wrote an opinion column that was published on NZ Herald: Matt Heath: When a mother sticks up for her famous son

Ben Stokes’ mum got wind of our comments and rang our studio to stick up for her 24-year-old son. I answered her call live on air thinking she was ringing up for a competition. When we found out she was ringing to make a complaint about us, we thought it would be funny to tell her she wasn’t on air so our listeners could hear someone have a go at us.

In my opinion, Ben Stokes’ mum was being an overly protective parent. She’d heard some people had made jokes about her son and wanted to stick it to us. Good on her.

But she shouldn’t have.

I reckon there is a lesson here for all us parents. Fighting your kids’ battles rarely helps.

Within reason, kids have to fight their own battles. That’s how they become resilient like we all are. You won’t always be around for them. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Your kids need to stand up for themselves today.

Give them love, support, advice and a safe home – but don’t ring up a radio station on air because someone called your boy “Ben Chokes”.

So Heath criticised Deborah Stokes and defended his deliberate deception on air.

But Deborah Stokes didn’t leave it at that. She lodged a complaint with the Press Council, who have upheld her complaint.

CASE NO: 2516

ADJUDICATION BY THE NEW ZEALAND PRESS COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINT OF DEBORAH STOKES AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

FINDING: UPHELD

TO BE PUBLISHED ON 11 JULY 2016 Confidential to the parties until 11 July 2016

1. Deborah Stokes complains that a column published in the New Zealand Herald entitled “When a mother sticks up for her famous son” breaches Press Council Principles 1, Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, 2, Privacy, and 9, Subterfuge.

2. The complaint is upheld on Principle 1 with regard to fairness. One member would also uphold on Subterfuge.

The Complaint

11. Mrs Stokes’ complaint provides context to the subject of the New Zealand Herald column, namely the live broadcast of the phone call she made to Radio Hauraki. She says she asked for, and was given, two separate assurances by host Matt Heath that the discussion was off-air. It was in fact on air, broadcast live and was subsequently replayed and referred to on the radio breakfast show several times over the next few days.

12. Mrs Stokes complains that the New Zealand Herald column breached three Press Council principles.

13. Principle 9 Subterfuge: Because the column was based on an on-air broadcast that was itself obtained by subterfuge, the information in the column was obtained by the same root subterfuge, misrepresentation and dishonesty. “It goes without saying that the column cannot be justified as being in the public interest,” she says.

14. Principle 1, Fairness: Mrs Stokes claims the actions of Matt Heath in writing a column based on an act of subterfuge breached the fairness principle.

15. Principle 2, Privacy: Mrs Stokes claims it was a breach of her privacy for Heath to have referred to the matter in the column as the radio broadcast itself was also a breach of her privacy.

The Editor’s Response

19. The editor of the New Zealand Herald, Murray Kirkness, defends the newspaper’s decision to publish the column. It is important, he says, to make the distinction between the original live radio broadcast and the subsequent opinion column when considering the facts.

20. He denies that subterfuge was used in obtaining information for the column as the information was already in the public domain prior to the time of publication.

26. Mr Kirkness submits that the publication of the column did not breach any Press Council rules, and did not go any further than what was widely published nationally and internationally in other media. “I believe it would be a matter of significant concern if the media were not able to comment on matters of public controversy by reason of issues arising out of the circumstances in which a story first broke,” he says. “Once an issue is in the public domain and has become a matter of public debate it cannot be the case that it is impermissible for the media to comment on it by reason of some question mark over the manner in which the information originally surfaced.”

Discussion

27. The New Zealand Herald column published on April 11 is based on the live broadcast on Radio Hauraki on April 6; however the Press Council cannot comment on the radio broadcast as it is the subject of a separate complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, and this adjudication deals only with the article published by the New Zealand Herald in print and online.

28. The column by Matt Heath was clearly an opinion piece; it was not a news report. Opinion pieces are by their very nature frequently provocative, offensive or controversial in subject and tone, but as long as they are clearly signposted as the writer’s opinion, they are exempt from many of the rules which apply to news reports. The Press Council’s Principle 5, Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters, states that “though requirements for a foundation of fact pertain, with comment and opinion, balance is not essential.”

29. In this case, however, we believe the fine line on what can be deemed fair or not fair has been crossed. Heath’s column about over-protective parents, which under normal circumstances is a perfectly acceptable subject for an opinion piece, was clearly a convenient hook to allow him to justify his actions in knowingly deceiving Mrs Stokes on his radio show.

30. In the column Heath openly admitted his dishonesty, which he said he thought would be funny, and then ridiculed Mrs Stokes for defending her son, writing that “a parental attempt to right things ended up bringing global humiliation on her son”.

31. The Press Council does not accept the editor’s argument that the New Zealand Herald article did not go any further than what was widely published nationally and internationally in other media. The difference was that the Herald published an opinion piece written by the perpetrator of the original deceit.

32. We agree with Mrs Stokes’ view that it was not fair for the newspaper to provide Matt Heath a further opportunity to justify his improper actions on his radio show. It is also unfair that he was permitted to add insult to injury by using her as an example of what not to do as a parent. Otherwise he is able to take advantage of his own misleading actions, which is unfair.

33. The complaint that the column breached Principle 1, with respect to fairness is upheld.

34. With regard to the complaints under Principle 9, Subterfuge, and Principle 2, Privacy, it is clear that rightly or wrongly, the subject of the broadcast discussion between Mrs Stokes and the Radio Hauraki hosts was very much in the public domain by the time the column appeared, so the information contained within it cannot be deemed to have been obtained by subterfuge. Mrs Stokes’ identity was by that stage also in the public domain, so her privacy cannot be deemed to have been breached by the New Zealand Herald article.

35. The complaints under Principle 2 and Principle 9 are not upheld.

However one member of the Council also wanted the complaint upheld on grounds of subterfuge and wanted his dissent noted. The column relied on an interview based on deception, and regardless of whether that interview was broadcast on radio or was simply part of the columnist’s research, the deception remains and, in his mind, was grounds for a wider uphold.

Regardless of this, the actions of Heath (and Jeremy Wells) on air were crappy, and Heath doubled down on his crap with the column.

The Herald published the full finding in Press Council upholds complaint against Matt Heath column.