J SPENCER AGAINST HERALD ON SUNDAY

Case Number: 2381

Council Meeting: MAY 2014

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Herald On Sunday

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage
Conflict of Interest

J Spencer (the complainant) complained about an article published in the Herald on Sunday on March 2, 2014.

The complainant alleged that the article breached Principles 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance), 6 (Discrimination and Diversity) and 9 Conflicts of Interest of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

The complaint was not upheld.

Background
The article discussed a taxpayer-funded trip for deaf MP Mojo Mathers to enable her to be interviewed on a provincial radio station.

The article contained comments from the MP who explained that the trip was essential as she is deaf and it is “almost impossible for her to do live interviews over the phone”. Face to face interviews enable her to lip read and the interview was an hour long.

It also included comments from the Taxpayers Union who had questioned whether the expense of getting the MP to the interview was value for money. Their comments suggested that they did not think so.

Unfortunately there were delays in the newspaper replying to the complainant due to confusion as to which publication was responsible for the article. It was commissioned by the Herald on Sunday from the APNZ news service, but published only online at nzherald.co.nz and not in the Herald on Sunday.

Complaint
The complainant alleged that the newspaper had requested the Taxpayers Union to investigate the MP’s expenses relating to her travel for the interview and believed that the newspaper should have also asked the Taxpayers Union to investigate “excursions” by MP Judith Collins and Amy Adams. The complainant believed that this was a breach of Principle 1.

The complainant also alleged that the article “discriminated against one political party but not others” in singling out the MP in a way that breached Principle 6.

In regard to a breach of principle 9, the complainant believed that if the Taxpayers Union was comprised of National Party supporters whose primary concern was the National Party interests over anything else, then the group should not have been part of the newspapers “investigatory group”. The complainant felt that the Taxpayers Union had “essentially discriminated against the disabled of New Zealand by attacking the MP.

Commenting on the editor’s response to the complaint, the complainant asked why the newspaper had not requested the Taxpayers Union to investigate MP’s, Ms Collins and Ms Adams.

The complainant also made the assumption that the Press Council would request proof from the newspaper that it had investigated the two MP’s noted in paragraph 10 of this decision.
The Newspaper’s Response
In reply to the complaint, the editor said the newspaper did not request the Taxpayers Union to investigate the MP. The newspaper conducts its own investigations.

The MP was interviewed about her trip after the newspaper received a tip off. The MP confirmed the trip and provided information about why she thought the expense was appropriate. The reporter then approached the Taxpayers Union for comment due to the lobby groups expressed interest in monitoring the spending of public funds.

The newspaper rejected any allegation of breaching Principle 1 and 6. The article reported accurately the details of the MP’s trip along with comments from both the MP and Taxpayers Union and published both viewpoints.

The newspaper went on to state that the newspaper has published articles relating to MP’s from all parties in Parliament and any decision to publish is based on the story’s public interest.

In regard to a breach of Principle 9, the editor believed this appeared to be about the Taxpayers Union and as such does not involve the newspaper. The newspaper publishes articles about all political parties and does not have a bias or preference.

The editor also outlined how the e-mails from the complainant had gone to the incorrect newspaper but finally arrived on her desk. She included the comment that the original e-mails did not appear as complaints but rather as requests for information.

The Herald had replied to the complainant providing the information that the newspaper had reported on MP Ms Collin’s and her trip to China but the first Herald on Sunday had learnt of the complaint was when contacted by the Press Council.

Discussion and Decision
The complainant believed that the newspaper requested the Taxpayers Union to investigate the MP’s trip and this is incorrect. The newspaper did their own investigation and requested comment from the Taxpayers Union as a lobby group known for their interest in monitoring the spending of public funds.
The article interviewed the MP and provided information as to why she believed the trip was justified and reported this accurately

While the complainant may not like the comments from the lobby group, they are entitled to hold their viewpoint.

Principle’s 1 and 6 have not been breached. The article contains accurate information from different viewpoints and the reader will reach their own view.

The newspaper comments on MP’s from all political parties not just focusing on any one party.

There was also no breach of Principle 9. The Taxpayers Union is an organization in its own right and not part of the newspaper.

The complaints regarding Principles 1, 6 and 9 are not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.

John Roughan withdrew and took no part in the consideration of this complaint.