The Press Council has considered a complaint about an article, "Keeper fails in bid to care for primates again", published in print in The Advertiser on 24 August 2013 and, with a different heading, online. The first sentence read: “A senior Monarto Zoo zoo-keeper has failed in her Federal Court attempt to return to her job with the primates following a ‘high risk’ pregnancy”.
Ms Rowe was a Senior Primate Keeper at the zoo. In October 2012, shortly before she was due to return from a second period of maternity leave, her employer told her she would not be able to return to that position or to any other work in the primate section. She applied to the Federal Circuit Court for reinstatement and compensation. At an interim hearing, the Court refused her request for reinstatement pending the full hearing of her claim.
Ms Rowe complained the headline and first sentence (as well as a photograph caption describing her as “former senior keeper of primates”) implied the court decision was final and that she had lost her case. She said the reference to a “high risk pregnancy” suggested she had experienced medical problems associated with her pregnancy, which was incorrect, and intruded on her privacy. She also complained her privacy had been intruded on by publishing her photograph without permission and referring to her “adverse psychological symptoms”. She complained that a letter she wrote to the editor was not published.
The publication said the article accurately reflected the court decision because it said she had failed in this particular “bid”, not that she had failed altogether in her court action. It said the employer’s reference to a “high risk pregnancy” appeared to apply to general medical issues relating to her pregnancy as well as to the implications of her particular working environment. This had been made clear by quoting the judge’s reference to the “‘high risk working environment’”. It said her pregnancy and mental health had been raised by her in court and were directly referred to in the judgment. In addition, it said there was wide community interest in the zoo, especially following publicity about its management, and most of the article reported aspects in her favour including her belief she was being discriminated against because of her new pregnancy.
The Council has concluded that the combined impact of the headline, the first sentence of the article and the photograph caption inaccurately implied her claim to reinstatement had been finally rejected by the court rather than deferred for consideration at the full hearing. This was exacerbated in the print version of the article in not mentioning her statement outside court that, after this interim hearing, she remained confident of the success of her claim. In addition, the article should have referred to the fact Ms Rowe strongly disputed the claim that her pregnancy was itself “high risk”. Accordingly, these aspects of the complaint are upheld, due to a failure to take reasonable steps to ensure accuracy and fairness.
As the aspects concerning her health were referred to in the judgment, the Council considered that it was reasonable for them to be reported. It also considers use of the photograph, which clearly was not demeaning or taken by subterfuge, did not unreasonably intrude on her privacy. The Council regards Ms Rowe’s letter as being obscure and accordingly it was reasonable for the publication to decide not to publish it. Accordingly, these aspects of the complaint are not upheld.
Note (not required for publication):
Ms Rowe settled her case against her employer in November 2013, after the article was published and she had submitted her complaint to the Press Council.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the Council’s General Principle 1: “Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced”; and part of General Principle 4: “News and comment should be presented honestly and fairly, and with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals. However, the right to privacy is not to be interpreted as preventing publication of matters of public record or obvious or significant public interest. Rumour and unconfirmed reports should be identified as such.”