Case Number: 925

Council Meeting: MAY 2003

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Oamaru Mail

Ruling Categories: Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Comment and Fact

The Press Council has not upheld a complaint against The Oamaru Mail, over its coverage of school reorganization in the Waitaki Valley, concluding that while the paper did make a serious error it took adequate steps to rectify the situation.
The complaint revolves around the lead story in the Mail of February 7 which outlined options put forward by a Ministry of Education review for the future of schools in the valley. In its second paragraph the story stated that “principals at Kurow Area, Hakataramea Valley, Otematata and Cattle Creek schools have opposed suggestions from the ministry they merge into an Upper Waitaki Valley Community School to be based at Kurow.”
The third paragraph quoted Cattle Creek principal Janet McGregor as saying “most” schools would probably reject the proposals.
The article then outlined the various options and quoted Mrs McGregor’s views at some length. No one else was specifically quoted.
Mr Doug Stone the principal of Kurow School, complained to the paper that since his views had not been sought it had no right to suggest that he opposed the proposals. Mr Stone sought an immediate correction and apology to be given identical prominence to the original article.
The reporter who wrote the original article contacted Mr Stone to give him an opportunity to explain what his views were. Mr Stone declined saying there was an agreement that all comment would come from a ministry facilitator.
The next day the paper ran on page 3 an article headed “Clarification”.
This acknowledged that the original story had implied that all the local school principals opposed the community school plan and said this was based on the subsequent quote from Mrs McGregor that she believed “most” principals would oppose the plan.
The clarification said the story did not seek to represent the views of anyone other than Mrs McGregor. It added that Mr Stone had specifically declined to give his views because of the agreement with the ministry.
The paper apologized for any confusion caused by the article.
Mr Stone subsequently complained to the Press Council about the clarification which he described as “totally unsatisfactory from the point of view of its positioning (buried in the body of the newspaper where few who read the original item could be expected to look)”.
The editor said the paper had acknowledged that the second sentence in its report was incorrect. Given that Mr Stone had declined to say what his views were, she said, it was difficult to see what it could do other than recording the error and apologizing.
Various other issues have been raised by the parties but these need not concern the Council.

The nub of the complaint is whether having made a significant error in a story the steps The Oamaru Mail took to rectify the matter were adequate.
The clarification it published was not altogether satisfactory, and in the Council’s view would more properly have been headed “Correction”, but Mr Stone appears to accept its content. The matter he has raised with the Council is whether its positioning low on page 3 was an adequate response to a story at the top of page 1.
On balance the Council considers it was. Newspapers face practical difficulties in giving a small correction the same prominence as a large story. The Council’s stance is that corrections ought to be given fair prominence.
The key question is whether the ordinary reader of the paper, having read the lead story on the schools, would be likely to see the correction the next day. The Oamaru Mail is a small, local newspaper and it seems unlikely that many readers would fail to turn to page 3 which is the second most important page.
The complaint is not upheld.