ANDREW FRAZER AGAINST KAPI-MANA NEWS

Case Number: 2491

Council Meeting: MARCH 2016

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Kapi-Mana News

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Misleading
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Andrew Frazer complains that a story in the Kapi-Mana News, “Problems persist for Pauatahanui cafe”, published on February 23, 2016, was misleading and lacked balance.

The complaint is upheld.

The Article

The newspaper carried a report on the costs faced by the cafe owner, Darryl Ellis, for resource consent from the Porirua City Council for extensions to his premises, comprising additional seating and a car parking area. Alongside a picture of Mr Ellis in the cafe, the story quoted him saying, “I’ve been treated terribly. I feel like I have been bullied.” The consent had taken two years and increased the cost of his extensions from $40,000 to $120,000.

The bulk of the report was devoted to Mr Ellis’ frustrations with the council. “I don’t know what Porirua City Council is doing to local business but it is ridiculous,” he said. A response from the council’s acting general manager was included. He said the consent process had been difficult and he considered the costs reasonable. “Getting to the point where the proposed plan matched what was required by the resource consent was more involved than in some other consents.”

The Complaint

Mr Frazer, a Porirua resident, complains that the report has ignored information provided to the newspaper which explains that it was the actions, or non-actions of Mr Ellis, not the council, that caused his application to take so long and become so costly for him. An Independent Commissioner had reviewed the case and concluded the council had acted correctly and its charges were reasonable. Mr Frazer says the commissioner’s report was provided toKapi-Mana News’ reporter.

The Response

The editor of the Kapi-Mana News, Joseph Romanos, contends the story is fair, balanced and accurate. It accurately conveys that Mr Ellis is unhappy with his treatment by the council and that the council is satisfied it dealt properly with the case. The newspaper was taking a neutral position on the story, it merely presented two sides of a dispute.

In his initial response to the complainant, Mr Romanos says his reporter, “was indeed supplied with some information by the council. He was also supplied with some information by Mr Ellis. He read it all, discussed it and produced his story.”

The Decision

Readers of the newspaper would not have realised from its report that the cafe owner was largely to blame for the time and costs of his resource consent. This was the finding of an Independent Commissioner, which theKapi-Mana News did not mention in its story. The tenor of the newspaper's report was this was a business facing unfair expense at the hands of an unreasonable council. The vague, cautious comments of the council’s general manager would not have altered this impression.

A longer version of the newspaper’s story was published on the Stuff website. This version did mention the Independent Commissioner’s finding, albeit well down the story. Mr Frazer says that had the online version appeared in the newspaper he would not have brought his complaint.

He has supplied the Press Council with a copy of the Independent Commissioner’s report on Mr Ellis’ objection to the council’s fees. The report makes it clear Mr Ellis sought retrospective consent for work already done, that more construction started before a building consent was granted, and an abatement notice was issued, that senior council officers spent considerable time trying to persuade Mr Ellis to apply for consent and provided him with advice. He was not charged for any of that time.

The council made the decision to notify the application because the applicant had not provided sufficient further information when asked. The Independent Commissioner reports that there were also multiple changes to the application during the process, which forced council officers to reconsider aspects of the consent.

A newspaper that sought to give its readers an accurate account of Mr Ellis’ dealings with the council would have made reference to these aspects of the case, readily available to it in the Independent Commissioner’s report. The comments of the council’s general manager were not sufficient to alert readers to the other side of the story. TheKapi-Mana News’ failure to do so left its readers with an inaccurate impression from an unbalanced report that was unfair to them and to the council. The complaint is upheld.

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