Case Number: 903

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2002

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Columnists

Mr C R Yates, President of the Auckland Returned Services Association, complained on 27 June about what he described as “misleading and inaccurate comments” in a Dialogue piece by Brian Rudman in The New Zealand Herald on 15 May 2002.

Brian Rudman writes a regular opinion column which, as the Deputy Editor of The Herald says, is “well-known for its robust commentaries on Auckland life.” Mr Yates, for his part, has for some time been at the centre of disputes over the conduct of affairs at the Auckland RSA. Rifts within the organisation have been extensively reported in The Herald newspapers: a lengthy article in the 4-5 January issue of The Weekend Herald was followed by a Dialogue piece in The Herald of 9 January by Rudman, three news reports during May, plus the Dialogue article of 15 May, and two Letters to the Editor, including one from Mr Yates.

Mr Yates wrote directly to the Press Council on 22 May claiming that the newspaper had refused to print any replies “from us regarding the mistruth and innuendo” printed about affairs at the Auckland RSA. He was advised to refer his complaint to The Herald, which he did on 31 May. The editor responded, on 19 June, noting that a letter from Mr Yates had been published on 30 May, that he had been interviewed twice, and that he had not replied to questions put to him before publication of the most recent article. Mr Yates referred his complaint to the Press Council on 27 June, forwarding a copy of his letter to the editor of 31 May, in which he asked for an immediate retraction from the newspaper of nine contentions in the Rudman piece of 15 May about the affairs at the Auckland RSA. The Deputy Editor of The Herald answered Mr Yates’s contentions, point by point, on 26 July.

The Press Council has examined the Rudman article and The Herald’s other coverage of the way the Auckland RSA is conducting its business, as well as the contentions made by Mr Yates and the newspaper’s reply. Mr Yates countered the opinions of Mr Rudman with his own opinions; he also raised matters which, as the Deputy Editor of The Herald has noted, are “factually disputable”. The Press Council notes too, the further point made by the Deputy Editor, that Mr Yates failed to address “the main thrust of the (Rudman) column which is about the scandalous goings-on at the Auckland RSA’s annual general meeting.”

Investigative journalism is of the very essence of a free press. Opinion pieces like those of Mr Rudman make an important contribution to debate in a democratic society. In this case large issues to do with the management of a considerable sum held for the benefit of old soldiers lie in the background. Transparency and openness in the conduct of business in an organisation with such responsibilities, are essential. A newspaper performs an important service to the public interest when it casts light on proceedings where this may seem not to be the case.

Mr Yates’s complaint is not upheld.