ALLAN GOLDEN AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2185

Council Meeting: MAY 2011

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage

Allan Golden has complained to the Press Council about a Dominion Post report on the upgrading of an Interislander ferry. The complaint is not upheld.

Background
The Dominion Post reported on 19 February that the Interislander company was taking the ferry Aratere out of service for an upgrade. The report contained details of the likely impact of reduced ferry services across Cook Strait, warning passengers that they might have to book early.

Complaint
Mr Golden complained to The Dominion Post that the report was unfair and unbalanced because it did not mention the alternative Bluebridge ferry service. He said not everyone knew there was an alternative service and the newspaper had done a disservice to all intending passengers by not mentioning it.
He claimed the report had been an ‘infomercial’ for the Interislander.
In his later complaint to the Press Council, Mr Golden said the newspaper gave the impression that the Interislander was the only option for getting across Cook Strait and the newspaper appeared to have ‘an unhealthy relationship’ with the Government, which owned the Interislander.
He said the newspaper had an obligation to inform the general public about the impact on ferry services, not just those who used the Interislander.

The Newspaper’s Response
Dominion Post editor Bernadette Courtney rejected Mr Golden’s claim that the report was an ‘infomercial’ for the Interislander and said the newspaper reported objectively on the Interislander line and had regularly reported on its shortcomings.
The report correctly stated that the Aratere would be out of service, leading to a reduction in services. This was relevant information for people who use the service.
She said the newspaper report did not mention Bluebridge because there was no need to. If Bluebridge had announced extra services in response to the withdrawal of the Aratere, this would have been included in the article as relevant information for prospective travellers.
She said The Dominion Post was not a trade directory listing rival services, nor a travel agent.

Discussion
Mr Golden has taken the view that because The Dominion Post mentioned only the Interislander line in its report about the Aratere, then the report was unfair and unbalanced and did a disservice to passengers who travelled on the Bluebridge line and to those who were unaware that there was an alternative services.

In the view of the Press Council, there was no obligation on The Dominion Post to approach Bluebridge for comment, or to mention its alternative service to somehow provide ‘balance’. It was a straightforward report about the upgrading of the Aratere and its likely impact on the services provided by the Interislander. Had Bluebridge responded by increasing its services to take up the slack, then it would have been appropriate to include that.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Lynn Scott (Acting Chairman), Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.