Weatherston trial coverage complaints upheld

Three complaints about testimony from the Clayton Weatherston murder trial broadcast on One News have been upheld by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Graphic testimony of the brutal murder of Sophie Elliott was given at the trial by the former Otago University tutor who stabbed her to death in her Dunedin bedroom in January last year.

The authority found One News footage of Weatherston's testimony, where he vividly described his attack on Ms Elliott, breached the standards of good taste and decency, did not adequately consider the interests of child viewers and did not exercise sufficient care and discretion when dealing with violence.

Two complainants, Hastings woman Sharon Coates and Invercargill woman Shona Thomson, focused on that particular piece of testimony, which screened on One News on July 13.

Viewers would not have expected the level of explicit detail provided in the testimony to be broadcast, the authority ruled.

The authority found Mrs Coates' other complaint, that footage screened of Crown prosecutor Robin Bates repeatedly saying swear words he read from evidence, also breached broadcasting standards.

TVNZ responded that a swear word used three times in the July 14 item should have been edited out, and pointed out it broadcast an apology to viewers the following night.

Ms Coates said neither item was preceded by a warning and she had turned her television off when her children became upset by Weatherston's description of stabbing Ms Elliott.

TVNZ said it had an obligation to provide a fair and accurate portrayal of what was said in court and its lengthy introduction gave viewers adequate warning of the type of material that was to be included in scenes of Weatherston giving his evidence.

It was important New Zealanders understood the offensiveness of his crime and "sanitising or censoring" the evidence would have distorted the issue.

The authority considered viewers would have been unprepared for the level of explicit detail in the item, "and its introduction was insufficient to signpost the grisly and unpleasant details relayed by Mr Weatherston", the authority said.

But it said choosing footage to include in reports in such an unusual trial would have been a difficult editorial decision.

It was also important for the public to see Weatherston giving evidence, in order for the news item to reflect events accurately.

A complaint from Blenheim man John Oswald that Weatherston's description of how he met Miss Elliott breached privacy standards was not upheld.

The authority ruled that details of the relationship were not sufficiently explicit to require a warning and there was a high degree of public interest.

The authority did not uphold a complaint from Auckland man Bryan Halliwell that items aired on One News and Sunday after the release of previously suppressed evidence from the David Bain case breached balance, fairness and accuracy standards.

The complaint was that coverage of the release of Mr Bain's 111 call and evidence suggesting he had previously planned to use his paper-round as cover for sexually assaulting a woman, attacked the credibility of Mr Bain and his defence without attacking the credibility of the police and the other witnesses.

debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

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