AGARWAL AGAINST INDIAN NEWSLINK

Case Number: 1056

Council Meeting: JULY 2006

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Indian Newslink

Ruling Categories: Accuracy

S S Agarwal complained about a story in the fortnightly English-language newspaper Indian Newslink published in Auckland on March 12, 2006. The article was headed “Recall of Indian envoy ripples” and Mr Agarwal complained that the statement “…the government in Wellington has refused to interfere in the affairs of the high commission” was inaccurate.
The Press Council has not upheld the complaint.

Background
From its own description, the newspaper Indian Newslink sets out to be a voice to the Indian community in New Zealand, claims more than 65,000 readers per issue and is distributed free throughout major Indian outlets in New Zealand. When there was news early in 2006 that the Indian High Commissioner to New Zealand Mr Harish Dogra was being recalled by the Indian government after complaints, it was natural that Indian Newslink would have its own story about this issue of vital interest to the community.
After the story in question appeared, Mr Agarwal emailed a letter to the editor. He complained that the statement “…the government in Wellington has refused to interfere in the affairs of the high commission” was untrue. His reasoning was that, in an edition a year previously, the newspaper had an article “Delhi to probe High Commission problems.” In this, there was the sentence “Foreign minister Phil Goff said he had discussed the issue [of problems facing…the high commission] with his Indian counterpart Natwar Singh during his visit to New Delhi on March 5.” Mr Agarwal said the paper should have referred to past issues before making sweeping statements, which included the subject of his complaint.
His letter was not published and when he emailed asking why, the editor replied that lack of space was the main reason as the newspaper received more than 200 letters per issue.

Complaint
Mr Agarwal complained to the Press Council about a breach of the principle relating to accuracy, fairness and balance, saying the editor had deliberately misled or misinformed the readers. Mr Agarwal set out the same grounds as he had to the editor. He also said that after his complaint, the editor had refused to correct what Mr Agarwal claimed was inaccurate reporting. He also felt the principle on keeping clear the distinction between facts and opinion had been breached.
The editor responded that the issues Mr Agarwal referred to were separate. The article complained of related to the non-interference of the New Zealand government in the recall of the then-Indian High Commissioner Mr Harish Dogra. The earlier story related to complaints about delays in processing visas at the Indian High Commission in Wellington. He said the reader had confused the two issues.
The newspaper stood by the story, and the editor said the public had not been misled. He valued readers’ opinions and believed there would have been more than a single complaint if the story was misleading or inaccurate. The editor also offered to publish a clarification if required along with the reader’s letter in a later edition of the newspaper.

Decision
In the first story, the-then Foreign Minister Phil Goff was quoted as saying it was not his intention to complain against a diplomatic mission but that he had the responsibility to redress the complaints received at his parliamentary and electoral offices in Wellington and Auckland. In the Press Council view, passing on such messages did not amount to interference.
The ordinary dictionary meaning of “interfere” is “to meddle, obstruct a process, be a hindrance, get in the way, take part or intervene especially without invitation or necessity.” If the earlier story were relevant, normal diplomatic exchanges on matters of common interest or concern scarcely constitute “interference.”
More significantly, in the story which is the subject of complaint, there is clear reference to the Foreign Minister Winston Peters, the New Zealand government and members of parliament maintaining “a stony silence” about the matters earlier this year. The newspaper said the government and politicians kept themselves out of even informal discussion for fear of raising a diplomatic incident.
Such reporting in the relevant story justified the conclusion that the government was refusing to interfere in the affairs of the high commission.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Beck, Ruth Buddicom, John Gardner, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Denis McLean, Alan Samson, and Terry Snow