DAVID MACK AGAINST WANGANUI CHRONICLE

Case Number: 2463

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2015

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Wanganui Chronicle

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Bias
Unfair Coverage

Overview

David Mack complained that a report in the Wanganui Chronicle headed, ‘Mack strikes again, in US’ contained inaccuracies and the newspaper had made no effort to contact him. The complaint was upheld.

The Chronicle reported that Mr Mack, a bankrupted marketing executive who had left a trail of debts in Wanganui, had “resurfaced” in the Texas city of Plano as a director of a company called Propaganda Methodology. The newspaper had received an email from one of his business associates in Plano, Hobie Thompson, who sought more information on Mr Mack saying, “it looks like I am the latest victim of his shenanigans”, and “he’s up to his old tricks”.

In addition to reporting Mr Thompson’s comments, the story referred to reports in theHouston Chronicle that suggested Mr Mack was involved in legal disputes with debt collection agencies there in 2013 and 2014.

The Complaint

Mr Mack denied that he filed the law suits reported in the Houston Chronicle. He said there were 52 David Macks in Texas. TheWanganui Chronicle’s story was inaccurate also in describing him as “Kiwi-born” and in stating Hobie Thompson had been his “50-50” partner.

Mr Mack told the Press Council he had no knowledge of being adjudged bankrupt in New Zealand in 2010, when he had left the country. He denied other facts in theChronicle’s report, including that he owed $5000 to the musical director of a Wanganui production of the musical Chicago, and he could not remember others who claimed he owed them money. He considered it inaccurate to say his failed company owed $144,000 since one of the creditors, owed $380,000, was Mr Mack himself.

He complained that the Wanganui Chronicle’s reporter did not contact him to seek comment or clarification of the matters raised.Since Hobie Thompson’s message had told the newspaper where Mr Mack was, and the reporter had “liked” his company’s Facebook page, there was no excuse not to seek both sides of the story.

The Response

The Response

The editor, Mark Dawson, denied that the newspaper or its reporter on this story had any bias or agenda against David Mack. Nor did the fact that theChronicle was still owed money by Mr Mack have any influence on its reporting. The newspaper’s previous story of Mr Mack was more than four years earlier. During his time in Wanganui theChronicle had printed favourable stories on him.

Mr Dawson said the newspaper had no means of contacting Mr Mack for its latest story.

He conceded Mr Mack was not “Kiwi-born” and apologised to him for that error. He had found that a factbox accompanying the story also contained an error. It said Mr Mack had been declared bankrupt in 2008. In fact he was declared bankrupt twice by New Zealand courts, in 2004 and 2010.

The editor said Hobie Thompson had been described as a “50/50 partner” in the sense that he and Mr Mack were equal partners, not that each held 50 percent. Mr Dawson supplied the Council with previous reports from theChronicle and the National Business Review quoting Wanganui business owners and others who said Mr Mack owed them money and had left the town without settling their accounts. The complainant was adjudged bankrupt in New Zealand in 2010, in his absence. It was true that when Mr Mack was made bankrupt in 2004 his company had outstanding debts of $440,000, and Inland Revenue was listed as a preferential creditor. Mr Dawson supplied the liquidator’s report.

The Decision

The Decision

It is clear that Mr Mack left a many debts in Wanganui and the news of his subsequent exploits in the United States would be of interest to theChronicle’s readers. The two errors the editor has acknowledged were minor and not serious enough to uphold a complaint. Of the remaining factual issues the most serious was Mr Mack’s denial that he had brought civil actions against debt collection agencies in the US. The editor was not able to verify that the complainant was the David Mack named inHouston Chronicle’s reports.

It is difficult to accept Mr Dawson’s contention that his newspaper had no means of contacting Mr Mack before publishing the story. It was in touch with Mr Thompson who could surely have told it how to contact Mr Mack if it had asked. It ought to have given Mr Mack an opportunity to comment on Mr Thompson’s allegations that he was up to his old “shenanigans” in the US. Its failure to do so is the sole ground on which the complaint was upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.