C M NIJMAN AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2372

Council Meeting: MARCH 2014

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Advertisements
Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage
Conflict of Interest

C M Nijman claims The Dominion Post failed to comply with Principles 1 (Accuracy, fairness and balance) and 9 (Conflicts of interest) of the Press Council Statement of Principles in relation to business page articles published on November 23, 2013 under the main heading “The battle between steel and wood”. The principal story was accompanied, on the same page, by a subsidiary piece (a sidebar) headed “Steel house framing was tough choice”. The stories appeared in other Fairfax publications. The side bar published in the Waikato Times carried the heading “Appeal of steel”.

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.

Background
The articles referred to the increasing use of steel framing in New Zealand residential building construction. The main story referred in some detail to various claims and counterclaims around timber framing and steel framing. There is no need to recite the pros and cons of each construction type here. It is sufficient to say the main article gave a full and balanced coverage of the diverse views at play.

The side bar reported the views of a Torren Wiffen. Mr Wiffen had decided to build with steel framing and the story set out his reasons. Specifically the side bar story referred to Mr Wiffen as being concerned about “seismic strength” and, as a result, had “heard about Golden Homes”. The piece reported Golden Homes as being “one of New Zealand’s leaders in the construction of steel-framed houses”. The piece referred to Golden Homes’ website and the company’s claims that it has “never built a leaky home”.

The Complaint
Ms Nijman’s complaint relates to the side bar, not the main, article. Ms Nijman essentially says the side bar amounted to an “advertorial”. Ms Nijman says the story was a “plug” for Golden Homes. The story lacked balance and was not identified as advertising as the Principles require. The Post’s treatment amounted to passing off.

Ms Nijman points to a Golden Homes promotion published as part of the Post’s advertising feature in the same November 23 edition as confirming the side bar’s true nature. Ms Nijman refers to Golden Homes taking advantage of the side bar by quoting from the story in its own web site.

The Response
The Dominion Post responds first by saying that the side bar was not an advertorial. The side bar was written by the same reporter who had penned the main piece. The reporter had interviewed Mr Wiffen who had himself mentioned Golden Homes as a company experienced in constructing steel framed houses. This was a “genuine business feature about an issue facing the construction industry”. Secondly, the Post says the fact Golden Homes advertised in the newspaper the same day was purely coincidental. There is no connection between the people who organise the Post’s advertising on the one hand and the paper’s feature writers on the other. Finally the Post says that it has no control over the way third parties, such as Golden Homes, use material published in the paper. News is “often shared and commented on”.

The Decision
The Press Council does not agree with Ms Nijman over the side bar story. The side bar was associated with a longer, more detailed, piece dealing with the topical issues around house framing types. The main story covered the competing arguments over which framing system was best in a comprehensive way. The side bar set out the views of a consumer who had chosen to build a house with steel framing. This in itself was unsurprising since the main story had made it clear timber framing has been, and still is, the predominant framing type in this country.

While the Council understands Ms Nijman’s concerns about the reference to Golden Homes in the side bar story (particularly in the context of the Golden Homes’ own promotion in the advertising feature elsewhere in the paper) it does not view the side bar as an advertorial. Had the side bar not been associated with the main piece Ms Nijman might have had a point. Taken in context though, the side bar did not amount to any passing off by the newspaper.

The Council accepts the Post’s assurances that its editorial department operates independently of any commercial side of the business.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Chris Darlow, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, John Roughan, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.