JERRY PHILIP AGAINST NORTHERN OUTLOOK

Case Number: 2457

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2015

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Northern Outlook

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage
Comment and Fact
Confidentiality

Overview

Jerry Philip has complained that an article in the Northern Outlook of July 1, 2015 headlined “Rangioria High ‘poorly run’ – parent” breached Press Council Principles 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance); 4 (Comment and Fact); and 5 (Confidentiality). Note that in his first correspondence with the Council on July 4 Mr Philip had raised Principle 8 (Discrimination and Diversity) however Mr Philip notes in his last correspondence on 19 July, he meant Principle 5.

The article was one of a number of articles dealing with the replacement of the Board of Trustees of Rangiora High School with an Education Commissioner in February 2015, the possible background issues surrounding the replacement and sacking of the Board of Trustees and the views of parents. This particular article focused on the opinion of one parent at the school, the principal’s leave of absence and some of principal Peggy Burrow’s spending of school funding.

 


The Complaint

Mr Philip complains that the article breached Press Council Principles 1, 4 and 5.

Mr Philip alleges that the article is unbalanced and “very one sided”. Moreover, there was a lack of understanding of the context. That is, given the employment case, Ms Burrows, her lawyer and the commissioner would be unable to comment so more effort should have been made to maybe obtain a view from another parent. There was no attempt by the Northern Outlook to provide balance.

Mr Philip further alleges the article did not distinguish between opinion and fact. The vindictive and outspoken views did not add anything of value to the debate and therefore the parent did not need anonymity. 

In addition, the publication did not take reasonable steps to satisfy itself that the confidential source was well informed or the information provided was reliable.

The Response

Northern Outlook editor Shannon Beynon asserts that the article was a piece of reporting which contained an opinion of a parent and so Principle 4 was not breached.

Principle 8 was not breached given no gratuitous emphasis is place on a gender, race, colour, age etc. However following the correction by Mr Philip that he meant Principle 5 rather than Principle 8, the editor advised she had nothing more to add.

In terms of Principle 1, the editor did acknowledge that the parent’s own opinion may have been coloured by the parent’s unsatisfactory interaction with Ms Burrows. The editor reaffirms that the reporter attempted to provide balance by contacting Ms Burrows, her lawyer and the commissioner with all declining the opportunity to comment.

The editor asserts that the balance can be found with the strong letters to the editor in defense of Ms Burrows in the publication the following week. It is important that the broader view of the situation, which has sparked a great deal of discussion in the district, is adopted rather than the single article as a standalone example of the overall coverage.

 


The Decision

The article does make clear that the view put forward from one parent was an opinion which sat within an article. Principle 4 is not upheld.

On Principle 5, the parent’s view of the school’s leadership is taken from her “multiple run-ins” with the school. Those experiences have created a well-informed view from a parent’s perspective. The article’s use of the parent’s quotes makes it clear to the reader that it is her own opinion. The headline also makes it clear that the view is that of one parent. The Council notes the decision made by the publication to allow the parent’s anonymity because of the possible impact on her children who attended the school. Anonymity of sources is generally an exception, although we accept it is appropriate in the circumstances of this case where the source has children attending the school. The complaint is not upheld on this Principle.

The Council agrees with both parties that the issue has sparked a great deal of interest in the district particularly given it is the local high school. Reasonable care must therefore be made to ensure that there is fairness and balance in the reporting of a sensitive issue for the district.

Whilst the Council does note the overuse of the opinions of one parent, it accepts the editor’s point that the publication did run three opposing (and equally strong) letters to the editor including one from another parent.

Notwithstanding that, the Council agrees with Mr Philip that the reporter should have tried other avenues to obtain a balancing view given the issues at play. Best practice usually requires more than one source. In this case it appears that it would have been relatively straightforward to speak to other parents. On balance however given the level of local interest in the issue, readers are likely to have taken a broader view based on a number of stories and on the letters to the editor that were published.

The complaint is not upheld.

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