AJAY GAUR AGAINST THE BLENHEIM SUN

Case Number: 2543

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Blenheim Sun

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Discrimination
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Headlines and Captions
Photographs
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Ajay Gaur (the complainant) complained about articles published in The Blenheim Sun on 24 August and 26 August, 2016.

He believes that the story breached Principles 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance), 5 (Headlines and Captions), 6 (Discrimination and Diversity), 10 (Photographs and Graphics) and 11 (Corrections) of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

The complaint is not upheld.

Background

The story on 24 August 2016 was headed “Vineyards under scrutiny in contractor row” and the article on 26 August 2016 was headed “Named and shamed denies fault”. The article was based on a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) report following an investigation undertaken in conjunction with the Labour Inspectorate, Immigration New Zealand and Inland Revenue covering contracting companies supplying labour to vineyards in Marlborough.

The report noted that of the 10 independent contractors visited, two were breaching minimum wage, holiday pay, and record keeping requirements with another seven asked to supply additional records.

The article noted that the two in breach were Double Seven Services Ltd and Vinestrength Ltd. It went on to say that the owner of Vinestrength, Ajay Gaur, had been fined by the Employment Relations Authority in 2015 for failing to pay minimum wage and holiday pay and record keeping.

The 26 August article recorded Mr Gaur’s denial of fault and statement that he had not been provided with any written information about breaches.

Both articles included a photo of the complainant.

The Complaint

The complainant said that the story was completely wrong as the company had not breached the law. His organisation was under investigation at the time of publication and an outcome is still pending. He said he asked the Labour Inspector about the article and was told they had no idea about the news.

On 29 August 2016, the complainant’s organisation was asked to provide more information to the Labour Inspector and the investigation is still ongoing.

The complainant said that the Labour Inspector confirmed in the article of 26 August 2016 that his company had not received any written information or improvement notice as the investigation is still ongoing.

The complainant contacted the journalist and questioned why the information regarding his company wasn’t checked and why his photo was included, and was told that she only worked two days a week and was in a hurry to get the article completed. She told him that she had attempted to contact him via landline telephone and when asked why she hadn’t tried his cell phone number, told him she hadn’t thought of that.

The complainant believed that the articles damaged his reputation and affected his livelihood and could have huge impact on his business, and caused his family mental stress. They were one-sided.

He noted that there were 10 companies who were investigated and asked why his was the only photo published.

He felt that she had violated his human rights and defamed his reputation, and also felt that she was being racist because he was not a white kiwi, but an Indian kiwi.

In further correspondence in reply to the newspapers comment, the complainant reiterated his previous issues. He also stated that he chose not to send the newspaper any further documents as he believed the reporter to be “biased and racist”.

He provided a submission from his auditor, Susheel Dutt, that supported the complainant’s views and beliefs, and stated that the reporter had made the same comments to him as the complainant alleged she had made to him.

Mr Dutt also stated that he had audited the complainant’s books which show the Labour Inspector’s view is incorrect. He said that the Labour Inspector withdrew the case against the complainant “as we proved he was wrong”.

The Response

In reply to the complaint, the reporter, Cathie Bell, stated that the articles were based on a media statement from the Ministry of Business, Innovations and Employment (MBIE). She provided the Council with a copy of the media statement.

The MBIE media release named the two independent contractors found in breach, one of which was Vinestrength Ltd.

The reporter called the complainant’s home number (obtained from the phone book) but there was no answer or answer phone. She did not have his cell phone number so that was not an option.

The initial article was based on the MBIE media statement without any embellishments. After publication, the complainant and Mr Dutt called her to complain and she listened to what they had to say. She said she was promised further information by Mr Dutt but, to date, has received nothing.

Following the initial article, the newspaper ran a second article based on the complainant’s viewpoint and it noted he had not been issued with an improvement notice which had been confirmed by MBIE.

The newspaper noted that another newspaper had also reported the MBIE media release in greater detail but without the complainant’s photo. The newspaper believed it is the photo which has created the complaint rather than the article as the complainant doesn’t appear to take any issue with the other newspaper.

It is the newspaper’s practice to run photos of local people with every story (space allowing) and there was a photo available of the complainant. If a photo had been available of the other contractor named in the MBIE media release as being in serious breach, this would also have been used.

The reporter states that at no time did she tell the complainant that she worked part time. She does not in fact work part time.

The complainant and Mr Dutt believe he has been treated unfairly by Labour Inspectors and told the reporter that they had Employment Relations Authority determinations showing the Labour Inspectors are wrong and the complainant is in fact adhering to the law. Despite repeated requests, they have not supplied any confirmation and the reporter has been unable to find them on any determination database online.

The initial article was not about ethnicity. It is reported directly from a media release from MBIE.

The Decision

The initial article was direct coverage of a media release from MBIE. A subsequent article two days later enabled the complainant to give his viewpoint.

The reporter stated that she attempted to contact the complainant for comment on the initial article via landline as she did not have his cell phone number. Although attempts were made to contact the complainant, the Press Council believes that more effort should have been made in this regard.

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Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance). Neither article contained information that the newspaper knew to be incorrect. The initial article was based on information provided by MBIE from that viewpoint and the subsequent article voiced the viewpoint of the complainant. Despite requests by the newspaper for further information from the complainant, as noted by the complainant himself, no further information has been supplied that either proves or disproves his viewpoint. Principle 1 was not breached.

Principle 5 (Headlines and Captions). The headline of 24 August 2016 “Vineyards under scrutiny in contractor row” was factual and accurately related to the information contained in that article.

The headline of the subsequent article on 26 August 2016, “Named and shamed denies fault”, did relate to the information in that article also. While the complainant may not like the headline, it related to the information contained in the initial article where he was in fact named by MBIE for alleged breaches of employment standards and clearly stated that he denied any fault. Principle 5 was not breached.

Principle 6 (Discrimination and Diversity). At no time was the complainant’s ethnicity part of the story or ever noted. The initial article was information from MBIE and the subsequent article was the viewpoint of the complainant regarding alleged breaches of employment standards. His allegation that the initial article was based on the fact that he was an “Indian Kiwi” lacks any substance. Principle 6 was not breached.

Principle 10 (Photographs and Graphics). The photograph of the complainant was in no way manipulated or misleading. He was named in both articles and it is the newspapers prerogative as to whether they include photos in a story. The newspaper noted that the only reason they did not publish a photo of the other contractor named in the initial article was because they did not have access to one. Principle 10 was not breached.

Principle 11 (Corrections) has not been breached. Information in the initial article was supplied by MBIE following an investigation of employment standards by independent contractors in the Marlborough vineyards and the complainant was given the opportunity to present his viewpoint two days later. While the complainant may not agree with the MBIE media release, the newspaper accurately reported the information it contained. Likewise, in the subsequent article, the complainant was able to put his viewpoint forward.

Neither the complainant nor Mr Dutt provided any evidence to support the assertion that the case had been withdrawn or that the information contained in the articles was incorrect.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering tis complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Ruth Buddicom, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.