HELEN HINDMARSH AGAINST ROTORUA REVIEW

Case Number: 2350

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2013

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Rotorua Review

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Bias
Accuracy


1. Ms Hindmarsh complains about inaccuracy, unfairness and bias in the Rotorua Review’s coverage of her candidacy for the Rotorua District Council in the recent local government elections.

2. The Press Council does not uphold the complaints.


Background

3. Ms Hindmarsh stood for election both as Mayor and as a councillor for the Rotorua District Council in the recent local body elections.

4. In the weeks before the election, the Rotorua Review invited candidates to make their policies known to the public by providing answers to two questions. The same questions were put to mayoral and to council candidates, but the former were asked to respond in 100 words while the latter were only allowed 50.

5. On 4 September 2013, the Rotorua Review published the answers of 26 council candidates to the first question. It did not include the answers given by Ms Hindmarsh or by another mayoral candidate who was also standing for election as a councillor. A previous issue had published the responses of the mayoral candidates, including Ms Hindmarsh.

6. Answers to the second question were published on 2 October 2013. Again answers from the same two candidates were omitted, but this time there was a note to the article stating that they were standing for both mayor and council and had answered the question the previous week when it was put to mayoral candidates.

7. The Rotorua Review appears to have published extensive coverage of the local body elections, including reports on 11 and 25 September 2013. The 11 September report is accompanied by a photograph of four of the mayoral candidates, including Ms Hindmarsh, seated in front of an audience at a Greypower event. The 25 September article is a report on three forums for mayoral candidates

Ms Hindmarsh’s complaints

8. Ms Hindmarsh complains of three specific instances of inaccuracy, unfairness or bias:

a. It was unfair to deny her the opportunity to provide a 50-word answer so that her policies could be compared with those of other council candidates.

Ms Hindmarsh says that the mayoral and council positions were two very different roles and answering the question required two different perspectives. Unless all council candidates were given the same opportunity, the public could not fairly compare and contrast the responses, given the difference in publication dates and the different perspectives.

In addition, the first article stated that only 26 of the 31 council candidates had risen to the challenge of responding, thereby implying that she had not risen to the challenge.

b. She was incorrectly quoted as having made a racist statement, citing “the Eastern Arterial Controversy as an example of RDC “doing things the Pakeha way”.

She did not make the statement attributed to her and referred to her pre-published speech, which did not include it. She abhors the word “pakeha” and to suggest she would use it is both wrong and suggestive of racism.

c. The photograph published in the 11 September report is objectionable.

The photograph was taken from an angle only visible to the photographer and shows a good deal of Ms Hindmarsh’s upper leg. She accepts that her dress was too short but in the interests of common decency, the photograph did not have to be published.

The Rotorua Review response

9. The Rotorua Review did not accept that it had been inaccurate, unfair or biased.

10. It had explained to candidates that the same questions would be put to mayoral and council candidates but that because of space limitations, mayoral candidates would be permitted 100 words and council candidates 50 for their responses. It does not accept that answering the very general questions required differing perspectives and submits that it would be unfair to allow Ms Hindmarsh 150 words to answer the questions when other candidates had only 100 or 50.

11. It had addressed some of Ms Hindmarsh’s concerns by inserting the footnote in the 2 October article.

12. The reporter who wrote the 25 September article took notes at the mayoral forum and reproduced the statement attributed to Ms Hindmarsh from those notes. The forum in question was one hosted by Maori in Business, while Ms Hindmarsh’s published speech was given at a different event, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce.

13. The photograph was taken at a public event. The appropriateness or otherwise of Ms Hindmarsh’s dress is not something that should be addressed by the Rotorua Review.

Discussion

The candidates’ responses to the Rotorua Review questions

14. The questions put by the Rotorua Review to candidates were very general. They included “what is the number one concern you are hearing from voters and how do you plan to address it?” and “what is your vision for Rotorua’s future?” It is difficult to see that they would have required to be answered from differing perspectives by mayoral and council candidates.

15. In addition the Rotorua Review has a valid point in saying that accepting Ms Hindmarsh’s request would have given her an unfair advantage by having 150 words to express her views.

16. It is unfortunate that the first article setting out the answers given by council candidates did not explain that readers should refer to the article on mayoral candidates for the views of those standing for both mayor and council. While the heading to the article is not quite as Ms Hindmarsh quotes it (it does not mention the total number of candidates but says that “these 26 rose to the challenge”), there could be an implication that Ms Hindmarsh had not supplied answers to the questions.

17. However the answers of the mayoral candidates (including Ms Hindmarsh) to the same question had already been published in a previous issue of the newspaper so that readers interested in the local elections would have been unlikely to think she was not prepared to answer questions. The position was put beyond doubt by the publication of the footnote to the 2 October article.

The statement on the Eastern Arterial controversy

18. It is obvious that the 25 September article is a report on three mayoral forums. It begins “Six days, three forums and two straw polls” and continues with a brief report on each of the forums. The remarks attributed to Ms Hindmarsh appear on the report on the Maori in Business forum.

19. Accordingly Ms Hindmarsh’s script of her address to the Chamber of Commerce is of no assistance in determining this issue.

20. There seems to be no reason to doubt that the reporter recorded the import, if not the actual words of Ms Hindmarsh’s address. She may or may not have used the word “pakeha”, but its use is not inherently racist, any more than the use of the word Maori is racist.

The photograph

21. The photograph was taken at a public event and there is no suggestion that it is not an accurate record of Ms Hindmarsh’s appearance at the event.

22. The Press Council is not an arbiter of taste and there is no identifiable breach of the Press Council principles.

Conclusion

23. The Press Council does not uphold Ms Hindmarsh’s complaints


Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.