BSA OKs calling Wilson "the Beast of Blenheim"

MICHAEL DALY
Last updated 14:02 04/02/2013
Stewart Murray Wilson
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
Stewart Murray Wilson.

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Calling convicted sex offender Stewart Murray Wilson "the Beast of Blenheim" on television news bulletins has been ruled to be within broadcasting standards.

Richard McKay of Auckland complained about the use of the label on bulletins reporting about Wilson's release from prison on TV3's 3 News and Nightline last September.

Releasing a decision on the complaint, the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) said the label had been assigned to Wilson and the nature of his crimes many years ago and had been used extensively throughout the media.

"It has become a well-known nickname and the broadcaster cannot be held responsible for its continued use," the BSA said.

Wilson was released after 18 years in prison for more than 20 sex offences against women and children over a 20-year period.

The complainant alleged use of the label "the Beast" dehumanised and stigmatised Wilson and was a deliberate attempt to incite  "public hostility and animosity" against Wilson and other prisoners.

He argued that the continued labelling of Wilson as "the Beast", even though he had served his prison sentence, was degrading and "purposefully designed to cause hurt, injury and harm to Mr Wilson (and his kind)". He referred to all other prisoners "as victims of both media and the public".

Network owner TVWorks said it understood the sentiment behind the complaint, but believed the news items were objective and contextualised the nickname by ensuring it featured "subordinately" alongside Wilson's real name.

The BSA said the label had been used only once in each item and that Wilson was also referred to by his legal name. Further, Wilson's position was clearly stated in the 3 News item when the reporter read out excerpts from a letter in which he expressed his view that he had "paid the penalty imposed by society" and wanted to get on with his life.

The complainant was also concerned the items showed disregard for Wilson's human rights in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. He argued: "The grooming of the public by TV3 against Mr Wilson (in collaboration and union with other broadcasters who hold to the same practices and ideology of separatism, hatred and contemptuous superiority) is a crime in New Zealand."

The BSA said that part of the complaint appeared to be directed primarily at the justice system rather than at the broadcast itself. For example, it referred to Wilson's right to freedom of movement, and his right not to be arbitrarily detained.

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"Mr McKay expressed his concern with the way prisoners in general are stigmatised by society, and in particular, by the media and politicians."

Such issues were beyond the scope of broadcasting standards, the BSA said.

It disagreed that the broadcasts encouraged viewers to treat Wilson in a way that undermined his human rights.

The complaint also alleged breaches of standards of good taste and decency, privacy, controversial issues, accuracy, discrimination and denigration, responsible programming and children's interests. None of those were upheld.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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