ALEX CRISP AGAINST NELSON WEEKLY

Case Number: 2624

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Nelson Weekly

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Bias
Headlines and Captions
Politicians
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Alex Crisp complains that a story published by Nelson Weekly on 29 August 2017 titled “Link approved” breaches Press Council principles 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance) and 6 (headlines).

The story reported the (former) government’s announcement that the Nelson “southern link” roading project had been approved. Work would begin within three years provided the National government was re-elected. The project was controversial. It had been rejected by the Environment Court in 2004. It was still opposed by various groups including the Green party. The Nelson MP Nick Smith was quoted as saying the the law had been “re written”. The project would be considered by a board of enquiry. The government believed there was a good chance the work would proceed via this process.

The Complaint

Mr Crisp says the story is wrong. The Nelson southern link has not been “approved”. The required consent processes have not been completed. All stakeholders have not “signed off”. Mr Crisp says the headline suggests the project was set to commence when it is not. The project is a “politicised local issue”. Mr Crisp refers to the pending election and the attention given in the story to Dr Smith, a candidate.

Mr Crisp, essentially, says it is crucial that media reporting on issues such as this is “correct and unbiased” especially in the lead up to an election.

The Response

The newspaper does not accept the complaint. It says the story was fair and balanced with the headline accurately reflecting the government’s support for the project. It says the headline cannot be read in isolation as indeed Mr Crisp acknowledges. The story referred to the role a board of inquiry would have, the requirement that the government had to be re-elected and various groups’ continued opposition.

The Decision

The Council sees no basis for the claim Principle 1 has been breached. The story was accurate and balanced. The issue relates to the headline.

On a narrow view the headline could be interpreted as implying all required consents to the project had been granted and work was to begin in short order. The Council does not accept such a confined approach is called for. Certainly the Government approval was conditioned. The Council agrees the headline should not just be read on its own. The conditions were fairly mentioned in the story proper. The story itself was not long or complex. Its thrust would have been readily understood by most readers quickly. Given the then Government’s support for the work (support crucial for the work to push ahead) the paper was strictly right in saying it had been “approved”. While short the headline was not misleading.

The complaints are not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Christina Tay.