DEBORAH RYDER AGAINST THE NORTHERN ADVOCATE

Case Number: 2294

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2012

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Northern Advocate

Ruling Categories: Headlines and Captions
Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

Deborah Ryder claims The Northern Advocate failed to comply with Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) of the Press Council Statement of Principles in publishing two articles on 16 and 17 August 2012. The articles reported the pending closure of the Classics Games, Books and Puzzles store in Whangarei. The store was owned by Ms Ryder’s company Classics Books and Games Ltd. The company had been wound up in April. The liquidator had traded the company until August despite it being in liquidation.

The two August articles followed a piece published by The Northern Advocate in April referring to the liquidation. No complaint is made about the April article.

The Press Council upholds the complaint against the August 17 article on lack of balance leading to unfairness. The complaint against the August 16 article is not upheld.

Background
The articles reported as to the company’s liquidation in April and the store’s closure in August. The April article (headlined “Classics store trading in liquidation”) referred to Ms Ryder putting the company into voluntary liquidation she by then having moved to Wellington. The April article referred to “debts which have led to the liquidation” and to the liquidator’s decision to keep the store trading. The liquidator was keeping the company trading, an unusual step, since it could lead to a better outcome for creditors. The continued operation had a limited time frame.

The 16 August article (headlined “Eatery, boutique go under”) referred to several retail and hospitality failures in central Whangarei. Classics Books and Games Ltd was just one of them. The short part of the article dealing with Classics Books and Games Ltd referred to Ms Ryder working in Wellington with the shop being run by managers at the time of liquidation. The article referred to the liquidator having listed debts totaling $101,763 in his first report. The company had 80 creditors. The store was to close on 25 August as the liquidator had been unable to find a buyer.

The 17 August article, titled “Bossed from afar, staff say”, referred to the staff claiming Ms Ryder had “micro-managed” the store from Wellington up to the April liquidation.

The Complaint
Deborah Ryder claims The Northern Advocate breached Principle 1 by:

(a) wrongly referring, in the 16 August article, to her company having collapsed because of debt. Ms Ryder says the $101,763 amount was an outdated estimate by the liquidator sourced from the Companies Office site. Ms Ryder says the figure overstated the amount due. She also says she gave the business to a liquidator since she was working in Wellington. The liquidator was instructed to sell the business and if it did not sell then to close it; and

(b) wrongly referring in the 17 August article to her “micro-managing” the business before it was handed to the liquidator and saying that key business decisions were made by her. Ms Ryder says this reference emanated from a staff member upset with the comment in the 16 August article that the store was being run by “managers”, not Ms Ryder, at the time of the liquidation. Ms Ryder says this claim is incorrect. She says the “management structure” she put in place on going to Wellington had not worked so she gave the business to the liquidator.

Ms Ryder says she received an email from The Northern Advocate on 15 August asking whether she had any comment about the pending store closure. Despite Ms Ryder’s asking to see the proposed stories the paper did not contact her further and she says she was not given any opportunity to correct the errors in question.

Ms Ryder also maintains The Northern Advocate acted wrongly by referring to her living in Wellington. Ms Ryder says that members of her family were compromised by this disclosure in the light of a court order.

The Response
The Northern Advocate responds by saying by saying:

(a) Ms Ryder was offered the chance to redress her concerns in the form of a letter to the editor and a clarification story. Ms Ryder declined the offer;

(b) its business editor had advised that “a person in liquidation is unable to comment on the process once a liquidator has been appointed”. The paper seeks the Council’s clarification as to whether this is correct.

The Decision
The Press Council does not see any basis for Ms Ryder’s complaint that The Northern Advocate was wrong in referring to her living in Wellington. The court order she refers to is unspecified. It was not served on or copied to the newspaper and has not been seen by the Press Council.

The Press Council does not uphold Ms Ryder’s complaint over the 16 August article. The paper accurately reported the company’s debt amount as detailed in the liquidator’s first report. The story referred to the pending store closure. There is nothing in the 16 August article which is unfair or unbalanced. The business had not succeeded. The paper was entitled to rely on such information regarding the company as was available on the public record. Ms Ryder does not point to any updated material lodged by the liquidator as to the extent of the company’s debts.

The Council has a different view of the 17 August article. This referred to the store’s staff saying Ms Ryder micro-managed the business up to April when a liquidator was appointed. The story, emphasised by the headline “Bossed from afar, staff say”, was critical of Ms Ryder. The words “micro-managed” and “bossed” were used in a derogatory sense. While the remarks were attributed to staff members apparently unhappy with the reference to them in the preceding day’s article it was incumbent on the paper to at least seek comment from Ms Ryder as to these specific statements. A post publication offer to Ms Ryder to publish a letter or clarifying statement from her was not in this instance enough to put matters right.

There is no basis for The Northern Advocate’s belief that “persons” in liquidation cannot comment on the process once a liquidator is appointed.

Ms Ryder's claim that the 17 August article breached Principle 1, in terms of lack of balance and unfairness, is upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.