Case Number: 1020

Council Meeting: JUNE 2005

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Ashburton Guardian

Ruling Categories: Accuracy

The Department of Labour complains about an article “Red tape means march cancelled” published in the Ashburton Guardian on 26 January 2005 and a subsequent editorial “Community generosity alive and well” published on 27 January 2005.

The complaint is upheld.

The essence of the complaint by the Department of Labour is that the newspaper wrongly attributed the cancellation of the annual Pipe Band Festival street march as being due to an inability on the part of the Ashburton Scottish Society to meet the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) requirements necessary to hold the event.

The Department of Labour responded to this article the following day by sending a letter and press release to the newspaper explaining that OSH had no involvement in the process leading to the cancellation and advising that the body responsible would have either been an individual road control authority or the local council.

This information was not received by the newspaper until after the deadline for publication of the next issue of the newspaper. This was unfortunate because a follow up editorial had already been prepared and this was duly published on the following day. This editorial maintained the same tenor as the earlier article.

The new editor candidly admits that the reporter had relied on representations made by the organising group and had failed to make any independent inquiry of OSH. The Deputy Editor has apologised to the Department of Labour for reporting incorrect information.

The pipe band street march was held during the weekend and in the Monday edition (31 January 2005) the correct position was set out in an article “The rules have changed for street events”.

The newspaper clarified that the local authority had to comply with the regulations of the Land Transport Safety Authority and it was, in fact, the Ashburton District Council who had imposed the requirements for the street march. It was reported, towards the end of the article, that “[t]he Department of Labour occupational and health service has taken exception to being blamed for the street event rules….”. To the Press Council this seems an eminently fair response from the department.

The Department of Labour maintains that its reputation has been damaged and readers have been misled by the inaccurate publications.

The editor believes that the correction in the subsequent report suffices to rectify the earlier conceded lapses.

While noting that the editor has accepted that the reporter should have sought comment from OSH and that it later published a more accurate article, the Council nevertheless upholds the complaint by the Department of Labour.

The factual error formed, in effect, the whole story with the follow up editorial proceeding on the same erroneous information. This is a situation where the responsibility for the inaccuracy should properly be borne by the newspaper.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Jeffries (Chairman), Suzanne Carty, Aroha Puata, Ruth Buddicom, Alan Samson, Murray Williams, Denis McLean, Keith Lees, Terry Snow and John Gardner.