Case Number: 2231 DARREN MALLORY AGAINST STUFF
Council Meeting FEBRUARY 2012
Darren Mallory has complained that a column published by The Press in December 2011 and carried on the Stuff website is gratuitous and discriminatory. The complaint is not upheld.
A syndicated column by Rosemary McLeod published in The Press, The Dominion Post and appearing also on the Stuff website has been the subject of two complaints to the Press Council.
The column, headlined on The Press section of Stuff, Short mutts – bad, mad and dangerous to know, discussed the behaviour of small dogs by making comparisons with short men.
Mr Mallory, a Chicago resident, complained to The Press that the columnist had used her hatred of short men to draw parallels with the psychology of small dogs.
He complained the column was inaccurate in comparing a high-profile New Zealand personality of small stature who was bankrupt and an American personality who was taller – and successful. He said the American had been bankrupt twice.
He said The Press website did not mark the column as opinion and it was important to keep this distinction clear for international readers who were unlikely to be familiar with Rosemary McLeod’s reputation.
He said her use of the word ‘research’ in comparing short men and tall men was bogus and doubted her expertise in making the judgments.
By linking height to someone with an offensive personality, the columnist had shown prejudice and engaged in ‘gratuitous stereotyping that serves only to denigrate short men’.
He said no newspaper would ridicule skin colour, female obesity, or sexual orientation.
Mr Mallory criticised The Press editor Andrew Holden for failing to recognise the offensiveness of the article and apologise.
The Newspaper’s Response
Dominion Post editor Bernadette Courtney, replying on behalf of Andrew Holden, said the columnist and the newspapers’ website were exercising freedom of expression.
She said the column appeared in the comment or opinion sections in both cases.
Rosemary McLeod was writing primarily for a New Zealand readership and the word ‘bankrupt’ had a different meaning in the United States. It was a fact that the New Zealand personality referred to was bankrupt while the American was not.
The Press Council has previously upheld the right of columnists to provoke and be outrageous.
Ms Courtney said the columnist was not advocating prejudice against short men. The editors reiterated their offer to both complainants that they would consider publishing a letter to the editor from them.
Responding to the editors, Mr Mallory said invoking press freedom to defend discriminatory views on short men insulted journalism and those needing protection while investigating matters advancing public interests.
Free speech had limits; “discriminatory vitriol is one”.
Two complaints about this column have come to the Press Council; both from the United States and both asserting that the column has encouraged prejudice against short men.
Firstly, the Council notes that any inaccuracy on the bankruptcy issue was not sufficiently material to uphold the complaint.
The column appeared in the comment/opinion sections of the two newspaper’s sections on the Stuff website, and is clearly the opinion of the columnist.
There are two main considerations here – the matter of freedom of expression for writers of opinion pieces and the question of whether the column has encouraged prejudice or discrimination against short men.
In the context of a light-hearted piece, the Press Council does not believe the column promotes widespread contempt for short men. Rosemary McLeod’s style is familiar to her regular readers. Not everyone would have liked it, nor agreed with her. Some readers would have smiled. Some might have even been affronted on behalf of chihuahuas. But it’s a step too far to say it should have been banned.
Freedom of expression is one of the Council’s guiding principles. The Council notes that both complainants were given the opportunity of expressing their own opinions through a letter to the editor. They declined to do so.
For the reasons outlined above, the Press Council does not uphold the complaint.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, John Roughan Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.
Clive Lind took no part in the consideration of this complaint.