Case Number: 2362

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2013

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Ruapehu Press

Ruling Categories: Politicians
Unfair Coverage

The Press Council has not upheld a complaint against the Ruapehu Press from James Parlane.

1. On September 25, 2013 the newspaper published a report about a public meeting of candidates contesting the local body elections for the Ruapehu District Council. Mr Parlane was one of them. Each candidate was given a five minutes to put their views, and could later answer questions. Mr Parlane was upset at the way his comments were reported and alleged the newspaper was biased against him because of an earlier report about him.

The Complaint
2. Mr Parlane regarded the September 25 reporting as gratuitous and defamatory, sentiments he expressed several times in complaints to the newspaper and the Press Council. The reporter could have reported positive things from the material he had given her, "however she chose to have a go at me instead".
In a small town the newspaper had great influence "and this time it was used unreasonably".
3. In correspondence with the Ruapehu Press he said it had reported him as "taking a swipe" at landlords. He denied saying that, nor was it in written material given to the reporter.
4. He had also been reported as saying the district council could encourage economic development through indirect taxes such as parking fees, rubbish charges etc. His speech specifically did not advocate those. His written material mentioned these examples as what "others" might consider economic development.
5. "Generally that report was unfair, incorrect and intended to demolish my election chances at a critical time when she (the reporter) set me up as the outsider."

Newspaper Response
6. On October 4 editor Mary McCarty wrote a lengthy rebuttal to his initial complaint. She asked him to explain how he had been defamed, which she also had done earlier, by return email on September 30.
7. In her letter she said her reporter asserted that Mr Parlane "definitely said that landlords needed to be made to do something about the state of derelict buildings". His lengthy written material contained 13 paragraphs critical about landlords. "Therefore I believe ... summation of your comment that you 'took a swipe' at landlords appears apt."
8. Responding to his "indirect taxes" complaint, she again cited written material he had provided at the meeting. The reporter's notes reflected that.
9. The Ruapehu Press report was lengthy and covered the views of a variety of candidates. There was no inference of Mr Parlane being an "outsider". It was factually reported that he was a two-term Waipa District councillor and that he was standing again in Hamilton and again in Waipa.
10. Rebutting his comment that the newspaper was critical or him for being an "outsider", she believed he was referring to an August 14 report in the Ruapehu Press, although he did not say so. "If there was an issue regarding this article then we would have expected you to raise that with us at the time."
11. As far as his claim of defamation was concerned, he had twice been asked to specify which part of the story was defamatory and had failed to do so.
12. The reporter concerned was a senior reporter with many years’ experience. She had no wish to malign Mr Parlane and remained completely neutral in her attitude towards local body elections.
13. After Mr Parlane complained to the Press Council, the editor again stated that he had failed to demonstrate how he had been defamed. The notes he had given out at the meeting backed up the newspaper's coverage.

Press Council Decision
14. Small town politics frequently provoke heated debate and candidates are sensitive about how they are reported. In this case, the September 25 report in the Ruapehu Press was a comprehensive one, covering remarks of all the candidates at the meeting. Each was summarised succinctly and the reporting reflected the way their comments were expressed. Mr Parlane was treated in the same manner. His own notes could well be summarised as "taking a swipe" at landlords. Less clear, however are his notes on his other reported comments, which were reported as advocating indirect taxes. Those remarks could have been subject to misinterpretation.
15. However, the Press Council does not accept his complaint that the report was unfair, incorrect, and intended to demolish his election chances when he had been "set up" as an outsider.
The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Penny Harding, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.

Sandy Gill took no part in the consideration of this complaint.