FOXTON RSA AGAINST MANAWATU STANDARD

Case Number: 2304

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2012

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Manawatu Evening Standard

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

Anne Hunt, on behalf of the Foxton RSA, complained about a report published in The Dominion Post and the Manawatu Standard. She argued that the newspapers had not produced a fair and balanced report and had misled their readers.
The complaint against The Dominion Post, the subject of a separate adjudication (see case 2290) was upheld.
Background
The report first appeared on the Stuff website on 30 August 2012 and was also printed in both The Dominion Post and the Manawatu Standard on the same date.
The article outlined a fraught series of complaint and counter-complaint within the membership of the Foxton RSA.
The reporter noted that the trouble had started “about a year ago” and gave examples, and then summarized the comments of (at least) three members who all claimed that the tensions were ongoing.
In The Dominion Post and on Stuff the report appeared under the headline “‘Short shorts’ add to RSA tensions”.
The Manawatu Standard ran its own headline “Claims of bullying dog RSA Foxton.”
The article opened “Complaints of bullying and intimidation continue at Foxton RSA after a member who objected to a young woman wearing ‘short shorts’ had a dismembered chicken dumped in her letterbox”.
At the end of the report, the club’s Vice-president, Anne Hunt, argued that the club had turned around after the problems of the past and pointed to positive progress. She was extensively quoted.
The “interview” with Anne Hunt was carried out via e-mail.
Complaint
In her initial complaint to the newspapers, Anne Hunt claimed that she had only been invited to respond to general concerns raised rather than the specific points mentioned in the report. In particular, she should have been given the chance to comment on the claims that the executive should “resign and go to the poll”.
She also stressed that, overall, the article was misleading in that almost all the concerns occurred more than a year previously, and although she had pointed out to the reporter that they were historical in nature, they had been reported as current issues.
Later, in her formal complaint to the Press Council, she stressed that “even a factually-correct article can leave misleading impressions” ie the reporter had concentrated on issues from the past which only served to bring the RSA into disrepute.

The Newspaper’s Response
Editor Bernadette Courtney responded on behalf of both newspapers.
In its first response to Anne Hunt, the newspaper argued that her reported comments added balance to the criticism of the executive apparent in the article.
Further, the substantive points raised had been put to her and a right of reply does not extend to countering every single opinion expressed in an article.
Finally, the incidents reported had been “clearly dated” throughout.
In a later response to the Press Council, the editor reiterated that the article took care to date the incidents.
She also claimed that Anne Hunt had nominated herself as the official spokesperson for the RSA.
She stressed that it was obvious that some members had concerns about the management of the RSA and those concerns had been put to Anne Hunt for comment. Her comments had been fairly and accurately reported.

Further exchanges
Anne Hunt noted that rather than being a “self-appointed spokesperson” she had been appointed by the Foxton RSA Executive as Communications Officer on June 23, 2012.
She argued that it was incorrect to claim that the incidents had been clearly dated because the lead supplied no date alongside the reference to the “short shorts” incident, and consequently the description of the “dismembered chicken” incident happening “soon afterwards” became meaningless in terms of timing. Finally, the “f word” incident was also undated.
All these matters occurred a year before the article had been published.
The editor, in a final submission, argued that the intro stated that “complaints continue at Foxton RSA” because that was the view of the members interviewed for the article. The dissatisfaction is current and not merely historical.
The reporter had not relied on one member’s criticism, rather she had included the views of others, including two former presidents of the club.

Discussion and Decision
The complaint about a lack of balance is rejected.
The Press Council is satisfied that several members of the club were not happy with the executive and their substantive criticisms were put to the complainant and she was given considerable space in a short report for her countering views.
Further, as the newspaper noted earlier, a right of reply does not usually extend to comment on every single opinion.

In the decision on The Dominion Post complaint the Council noted it was particularly concerned that the headline lent considerable weight to Anne Hunt’s complaint that historical events were being presented as if they were still current issues. Certainly headlines traditionally do use the present tense but the event highlighted happened in the distant past, not the recent past. In the Dominion Post case the headline invited readers to assume the event mentioned was current.

The Manawatu Standard headline however indicated correctly that concerns about the club were on-going. While the timing of the various events mentioned throughout the article was not always clear the Manawatu Standard headline was not inaccurate and so readers were not mislead from the outset. On this basis the Council determined that this complaint should not be 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, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.

Clive Lind took no part in the determination of this complaint.