Case Number: 853

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2001

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Hawkes Bay Today

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact

The Press Council has not upheld a complaint from Mr Bosley against Hawkes Bay Today.

In an editorial headlined “Lets hear the issues” published in Hawkes Bay Today on 21 August 2001, some seven weeks prior to the local council elections, the following statement was made, “One potential Councillor has been campaigning on an anti-water meter platform, but as all sitting members voted against the idea of metering the city’s water supply when it was last debated, it would appear the council hopeful is attempting to fabricate an issue when non (sic) exists”.

According to Mr Bosley, “The claim is damaging and misleading. For the fact is that there has never been a council debate on water meters”.

The day following the editorial, a letter was printed from Cr Kathie Furlong stating that when water conservation was last discussed by the council not one councillor or the Mayor expressed support for water meters. Further, the editor provided a letter from council’s Chief Executive officer confirming that in his opinion water meters were a non- issue and stating the matter had been raised formally on agendas and that no member of the council advocated for water meters. He documented several council meetings where the council had made clear its policy not to pursue universal water metering.

Mr Bosley appeared before and addressed the Press Council at its meeting. He said the editor had taken a historical view on the issue of water meters, whilst his campaign was about the future. The council was about to change and the new council was not obliged to continue the same policy on water meters. He was not fabricating an issue he was standing against a real possibility. Given his active stand on water meters the editorial was obviously directed at him and could have been damaging to his campaign, he said.

The Press Council acknowledges that the comments did seem to be directed at Mr Bosley. The word “fabricate” used in the context of the editorial was a synonym for “build” and carries no negative connotation. This editorial contained the editor’s opinion, based on evidence, that water meters were not an issue. He was entitled to that view and to publish it. The Press Council also acknowledges Mr Bosley held a different but equally valid view, that water meters could become an issue in the future. These views are not mutually exclusive.

The essence of a free Press is that honestly held views may be published as opinion. In this case they where published in an editorial which clearly identifies them as opinion. Mr Bosley’s fear that his campaign would be harmed by the editorial seven weeks before the election has in hindsight become a moot point. He was in fact elected to the council. The complaint was not upheld.

People with complaints against a newspaper should first complain in writing to the editor of the publication and then, if not satisfied with the response, complain to the Press Council. Complaints should be addressed to the Secretary, P O Box 10 879 The Terrace, Wellington. Tel 473 5220. Information on the Press Council is available on the internet at www.presscouncil.org.nz