GLENDA BELL AGAINST THE SOUTHLAND TIMES

Case Number: 2607

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Southland Times

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Bias
Politicians
Unfair Coverage

Overview

The Press Council received a complaint from Glenda Bell concerning an article The running Walker published in The Southland Times on August 26. This complaint has been considered using the fast-track procedure for dealing with complaints arising out of the general election.

Background

Todd Barclay, Member of Parliament for Clutha- Southland, announced on June 21, 2017 that he would not be seeking re-election following the revelation he had secretly taped conversations of a staff member in his electorate office.

A selection process for a new candidate was undertaken and on August 16 Hamish Walker was selected as the National Party candidate for the electorate.

A profile on Hamish Walker was published in the Southland Times (A5) on August 26 and on Stuff.

The Complaint

Glenda Bell complained that the article breached the Press Council Principle relating to Accuracy Fairness and Balance. She contended that to publish such an extensive piece on Hamish Walker, with no mention of any of the other candidates, could have negatively swayed some of the unthinking public to believe that Walker was the only candidate of note and that the others were immaterial. All candidates should be treated equally. She saw this as editorial bias.

The Response

Natasha Holland, editor of The Southland Times responded that that Hamish Walker had been profiled because of the high news value and public interest in the appointment. The circumstances of the appointment were unusual and it was strongly in the public interest to profile the Todd Barclay successor. It would have been remiss of journalists not to delve a little deeper into who the new candidate was.

She did not believe this one profile would sway voters, or that it showed gross bias towards a candidate. Neither did the profile breach any Press Council Principle.

Other election coverage was continuing and all candidates would feature in this.

The Decision

The circumstances that led to the publication of the Hamish Walker profile were indeed unusual. The Council agrees with the editor that having a candidate selected just six weeks before a general election gave the story high news value and that there was a strong public interest in informing The Southland Times’ readers about the candidate.

The Council notes that similar profiles had run on the Labour candidate in March 2017; the Greens candidate in April; and the New Zealand First candidate in May all on the announcements of their candidacy. What made this profile different was the proximity to the election, but that was an issue not of the newspaper’s making.

While it was perhaps unfortunate that the profile did not at least include the names of the other candidates, if only for the benefit of its readers, the Council does not consider that this would have led readers to conclude that they were immaterial to the election.

The Press Council also notes that further extensive coverage of all four candidates’ points of view on matters including immigration, electricity costs, water tax/quality, regional development and jobs, housing, capital gains tax etc has been published on August 29, in a report on a “meet the candidates” meeting in Balclutha.

The complaint is not upheld.