BOB BOARDMAN AGAINST ROTORUA DAILY POST

Case Number: 2596

Council Meeting: JULY 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Daily Post

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. Bob Boardman alleges a lack of balance, and bias, in reporting by the Rotorua Daily Post in a number of articles and editorials dealing with the issue of Easter trading, between 2 November 2016 and 18 April 2017. He alleges the Press Council principles of accuracy, fairness and balance have been breached.

2. Between the dates mentioned above, the Rotorua Daily Post published four articles and five editorials dealing with the issue of trading over Easter and in particular on Easter Sunday. It was obviously a matter of some moment for the local mayor and council, no doubt because Rotorua is such an important tourist destination.

The Complaint

3. Central to the complaint is Mr Boardman’s belief that Easter Sunday is an important festival for Christians, and that this should be recognised by shops remaining closed. He said it is a highly significant issue in Rotorua, as in the 2013 census half of the population of 65,000 people called themselves Christian. He pointed to the fact that one councillor mentioned in the article of 2 December 2016 stated that there was not enough mention in the proposed consultation document about the reason Easter Sunday was observed by the almost 42 per cent of Rotorua residents who were Christians and believed the day was the anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus Christ

4. He also maintained that the newspaper made no effort to determine the veracity of information supplied by the council and business interests.

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The Response

5. The regional editor maintained they had not breached the principle of accuracy, fairness and balance. He pointed out that two articles specifically mentioned the religious aspect, including one quoting Mr Boardman.

6. He also stated that in two others, balance was not required because no-one was criticising or passing judgment on the religious importance of Easter. Rather, the articles did not present statements of controversy that required a reply. He further went on that this was a longstanding issue in Rotorua and he did not feel that every article focused on retail shopping needed comment from church leaders on the religious significance of Easter.

7. He further rejected the assertion that the Rotorua Daily Post colluded with local politicians and business interests, or was biased. He said this is not true, and editorial content decisions are completely independent of any commercial influence.

The Decision

[8] Whether or not trading should occur on Easter Sunday has been a matter of considerable controversy in New Zealand for many years. It comes into particular focus in those cities where tourism is an important element of local life and economy. The arguments on both sides have been rehearsed for many years. As the Press Council has noted previously,[1] where controversy or arguments have existed for long periods of time and both sides of the divide are well-known to the reading public, it is not necessary to bring balance to every article published.

[9] The first editorial of 2 November 2016 notes that church leaders and workers’ unions were not opposing calls to allow Easter trading. It mentions the mayor and many councillors support it, as does the local Chamber of Commerce. One minister was quoted supporting the move as long as workers’ rights were protected. The editorial then goes on to note that the council was going to consultation that month on the issue, and that a Colmar Brunton survey found that 79 per cent support for Easter trading.

[10] The first article, of 2 December, is a report on the Council agreement to consult the public about the proposal. One Councillor, Ms Tapsell is noted as saying there was not enough mention in the consultation document about the reason Easter Sunday was observed, by the 42 per cent of Rotorua residents who were Christians, as the anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As noted, the mayor clearly supported the situation, as did the former Rotorua Chamber of Commerce and the vast majority of Councillors. Two ministers of religion were quoted, essentially not opposing as long as workers’ rights were protected.

[11] The next article of 4 September 2016 has a photograph of submitters relating to Easter Sunday, including the complainant. Mr Boardman is quoted at some length on his views that the day should be protected from shopping because of its Christian significance.

[12] There was an editorial clearly based on this article on 7 February 2017 that expressed support for Easter trading. The writer notes that, not being the religious sort, Easter Sunday was treated as a day off for her. It noted the number of submissions received: 78 in support and 43 opposing. It also noted that eight people wanted to have submissions heard but only three in fact turned up, of whom only Mr Boardman was against.

[13] The third article, dated 10 February 2017, noted the councillors at the Council strategy policy and finance committee voted to allow local retailers to choose whether to open or not. Only Councillor Tapsell, quoted previously, was against it. It then gave details of the consultation, the submissions received and the response of a number of Councillors and business figures. It also quotes Ms Tapsell at length, but on this occasion her argument appears to be based on the people approaching her with the message that they only get three guaranteed paid days off a year. (Rather than her earlier comments regarding Easter Sunday being significant to Christians and a large number of Rotorua residents stating in the census they were Christian).

[14] The next editorial of 13 February 2017 was written by someone who had worked in retail through high school and university. She talked of the long hours she worked and of being told if she did not work those hours she would not be given any hours. This was a real threat, but six months later she stood up for herself and resigned. She stressed that not all retailers treated their staff like this, but finished by saying that Easter Sunday was one of three days afforded to retail staff and it was not unreasonable if employees were miffed it was taken away. It urged that people looked at the issue from the point of view of employees.



[15] The fourth editorial of 1 March 2017 compares the situation between Rotorua that had approved trading on Easter Sunday and Tauranga which had not. And, while critical of the Tauranga situation, the writer, who also had experience of being engaged in retail’ ended with the question, “are three and a half days off a year really too much of an ask?”

[16] The fourth article, of 17 April 2017, essentially surveys shoppers who were out over Easter, and sought their views. Most were supportive. At the bottom there was a “Street view” with four photographs. Three were supportive, and one person said “Well, I don't think they should be open, so I feel guilty being here. I am a Christian.”

[17] The fifth editorial deals with the Easter Trading that occurred and notes, “there was hardly a stampede of people waving wallets and pushing for bargains.”

[18] The second and third editorials are clearly labelled opinion, and rather obviously the other editorials are also the opinion of the editorial staff writing them.

[19] We have already mentioned the exception to principle one, where there are long-running issues where every side of an issue or argument cannot reasonably be repeated on every occasion. The same applies where there is reportage of proceedings where balance is to be judged on a number of stories rather than a single report.

[20] Both of those apply here. First, the issue of Sunday trading at Easter, as we have already noted, has been canvassed for many years in New Zealand. The side of the argument put forward by Mr Boardman, that it is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is well-known to all readers, as are the opposing views. As well, this was a series of editorials and articles on an issue in the Rotorua community where the Council had determined to go to consultation, hear submissions, and had ultimately decided that Sunday trading should be allowed if the retailer opted for it. We see no breach of principle one.

[21] As noted, two of the editorials have been noted clearly as opinion, and the other editorials are also opinion. There is a foundation of fact for those opinions, and in circumstances, in accordance with principle 5, balance is not essential.

[22] For those reasons, the complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.


[1] Case 2559 —Right To Life NZ Inc against The Press; Case 2370 — Simon Clark againstStuff; Case 2380 — Jan Rivers against Stuff.