Case Number: 953

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2003

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Bias

The New Zealand Press Council has not upheld a complaint by Mr B M Roswell that The Press had displayed unacceptable bias against the New Zealand First political party. This claim of bias was based on three separate incidents.

First, he objected to a Press editorial referring to “a spasm of rabble rousing from Winston Peters among his xenophobic backwoods followers.” This, he said, could only be taken to mean that NZ First members such as himself were racist and thick. Such language was inappropriate and insulting.
Second, he complained about the publication of a court report from Ashburton which highlighted the fact that a woman convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol had been a NZ First parliamentary candidate in 1993 and 1996. There was, in his view, no justification for emphasizing that connection when it had no relationship to the offence and was several years old.
Third, he complained about the failure of the Press to include a notice advertising a NZ First meeting in its Community Calendar. Taken together with the other examples he was suspicious that the non-publication was due to political bias against the party.

The editor of The Press rejected the claim of bias. The editorial, he said, was the paper’s expression of opinion and as such was usually argued firmly and in strong language.
The court report had in fact been provided by the New Zealand Press Association, showing it thought the case to be of interest, and was used because the paper circulated strongly in the Ashburton area.
The paper got far more notices for its Community Calendar than it had space for and tended to give preference to voluntary and non-controversial organisations. “Events organised by political parties,” he said, “do not easily fall within those criteria.”

Regarding the editorial, the Council points out that its Principles specifically state that “a publication is entitled to adopt a forthright stance and advocate a position on any issue.” The comments regarding NZ First clearly fall into that category.
As for the court case, it is not unusual for the media to add interest to a court story by drawing attention to a convicted person’s past, be it in politics, sport or show business, and there was nothing unacceptable about it being done in this instance.
The Council does note that examples provided by Mr Roswell suggest that, contrary to the editor’s comments, political notices often do appear in the Community Calendar. While it would be preferable for the paper to take a more consistent approach to publication of these notices it is entitled to decide which to use and the omission of the NZ First item is far more likely to be due to pressures of available space than deliberate bias.

The complaint is not upheld.