James v Whale Oil Beef Hooked (16/008)

Content: “The House Today #NZQT” Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Publisher: Whale Oil Beef Hooked

Complainant: J. James

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The Chairman accepted the Complainant was offended by the user generated comments on the Whale Oil Beef Hooked article and was concerned one of them endorsed violence.

The Chairman accepted the preliminary comment from the Publisher which said the article “contains no disgusting comments whatsoever. Commenters are talking about the claims of an animal activist’s complaints about the Easter show and the treatment of animals.” The Chairman noted the Publisher had closed the ability to comment as a precaution and confirmed no comments had been deleted as they met its moderation policy.

Committee Decision (16/004) held that that OMSA had jurisdiction to cover user generated comments on its members websites, and noted in part:

“The Committee concluded that comments posted to any page or platform controlled by an OMSA Member were the responsibility of the Publisher when published. Where news and current affairs material “published online” by any of its Members, using the clear identifiable branding of the Publisher and providing a vehicle for user generated comments, particularly when inviting users to interact, the Committee said it was the responsibility of the Publisher and fell within OMSA’s jurisdiction.”

The responsibility of Publisher to “ensure the content was adequately moderated” and in a timely manner.

The Chairman considered the user generated content and took into account the tenor of the article. The purpose of the article was to generate comments about the questions to Ministers. With regard to the concerns about the comments endorsing violence, the Chairman noted the references to ‘smacking’ were about verbal debate between opposing political party leaders, not physical violence. Therefore, the Chairman said the references did not reach the threshold to breach 5e.

The Chairman also noted the moderation policy of the Publisher and their actions on learning of the complaint. Taking into account the right to freedom of expression under Section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Chairman said the comments did not meet the threshold to breach Standard 5 and were not likely to cause undue distress. The Chairman accepted the Publisher had acted responsibly in this instance.

Accordingly, the Chairman ruled the content subject to complaint met the requirements of Standard 5 and Guideline 5e, there was no breach of the Code of Standards and therefore, no grounds for the complaint to proceed.

Ruling Date: 1 April 2016

Outcome: No Grounds to Proceed