Case Number: 955

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2003

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Hawkes Bay Today

Ruling Categories: Accuracy

Napier city councillor David Bosley has complained to the New Zealand Press Council about an article in Hawke’s Bay Today under the headline, Bosley dumped over job leak and published last August 21.

The Press Council has not upheld the complaint.

Cr Bosley wrote to the Press Council last September, unhappy at the local paper for “publishing totally incorrect information about me” on its front page, and to its editor for refusing to publish a correction.

The report that upset Mr Bosley carried a secondary heading that reads: A Napier councillor has been dropped from three committees for a deliberate breach of confidentiality.

The article itself said that Cr Bosley had been removed from three council committees after his colleagues found he had deliberately divulged to the editor of the newspaper that a reporter had applied for a senior job with the council.

A little background is required here.

On August 7, Cr Bosley wrote a strongly worded letter to the editor of Hawke’s Bay Today, in which he suggested that because a newspaper staffer had applied for a council job the relationship between the council and the paper was too close.

The editor, Louis Pierard, was so annoyed at the intimation that, later the same day, he wrote a letter of his own to the council for its consideration in committee, a letter in which he stressed that the paper did not “soft-soap” the council and the fact that a staff member had applied for a council position should be in no way seen to compromise her professional independence.

He also took the opportunity to spell out the way he handled letters to the Editor from councillors.

A week later, Cr Bosley submitted to the paper a letter for publication that was highly critical of council staff. The newspaper chose to publish it in the form of an article, rather than as a letter to the Editor. The article was published on August 18.

Napier City Council met in committee on August 20 and it was at this meeting that Cr Bosley was removed from three committees. The council resolution gave no reason for the action. The same day, however, committee chair Cr John Harrison issued a press statement saying that Cr Bosley had been dumped because he had deliberately divulged to Mr Pierard information about a reporter on his staff.

More than a fortnight later, Cr Bosley complained to the newspaper. He said that its report of his removal from three committees over a job leak was “totally wrong”. He sought a “bold and conspicuous” front-page retraction, correction and apology.

Mr Pierard refused and Cr Bosley referred his complaint to the Press Council.

Despite the claim and counter-claim continuing in the background, the newspaper nonetheless – and commendably – maintained its full reporting of the council, Cr Bosley and council activities.

In the process of that coverage, it became apparent that, while the council’s public resolution on Cr Bosley’s dismissal was limited to the fact of it only, his strong criticism of council staff – conveyed in his letter to the Editor of August 14 and published in the form of an article four days later – was at least as much a cause of that action as was his release of information about a reporter seeking a council position.

In his defence of the newspaper’s August 21 front-page report, Mr Pierard wrote to the Press Council saying:

“When Cr Bosley was dropped from three committees on August 20, we received a press statement from committee chairman John Harrison that was unequivocal about the reasons. Because the meeting was in committee, we had no way of knowing otherwise …”

Cr Bosley made a personal appearance before the Press Council at its meeting of December 15, 2003.

Having considered the written information from both parties as well as taking account of Mr Bosley’s oral submissions, the Press Council observed that Mr Pierard clearly finds Cr Bosley and his frequent criticism of the newspaper a nuisance. As a result, he was more than reluctant to engage in correspondence or verbal argument with him over this matter.

The Council believes that editors should handle complaints, regardless of their provenance, with an open mind.

However, it found it could not uphold Cr Bosley’s complaint. The newspaper was entitled to rely on the August 20 press statement from Cr John Harrison, which attributed his colleague’s removal from three council committees to his revelation to Mr Pierard of a newspaper reporter’s intentions.

It also found that, in the subsequent news coverage of Cr Bosley’s removal, more information was revealed that uncovered the council’s motivation for dumping him from three committees. This issue was, therefore, thoroughly canvassed.

The complaint is therefore not upheld.