JOSE AND LINDA ARMSTRONG AGAINST WANGANUI CHRONICLE

Case Number: 2180

Council Meeting: MARCH 2011

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Wanganui Chronicle

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage

Jose and Linda Armstrong complained that the Wanganui Chronicle failed to comply with Press Council Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) in reporting matters concerning police raids in relation to alleged gang activity in various North Island centres in February 2011. The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.

Background
On February 11, 2011 the Wanganui Chronicle ran a story headed “Wanganui homes raided”. The story reported on police raids focusing on “gangs, methamphetamine and organised crime”. The raids were extensive involving more that “100 police staff executing search warrants” in several North Island towns. Particular emphasis was given to one of these raids on a house at Salisbury Ave, Wanganui. The story carried a picture of the Salisbury Ave house with police cars outside it. The story dwelt on aspects of the Salisbury Ave raid and included various residents’ reactions. These reactions were mixed, ranging from a lack of any knowledge of any raid, to observations that certain Australian gang members had moved into two Salisbury Ave houses a few days before. The story quoted one resident as saying Salisbury Ave “was a quiet little street”.

The story referred to raids being carried out on three other Wanganui properties but the addresses of these were not mentioned.

In an article the following day Chronicle ran a follow up “first person piece” (as the Chronicle’s editor describes it) article describing Salisbury Ave as a “quiet little street at the back of Wanganui East”. The reported event in the street, according to the author, a resident, was the exception not the rule.

The Complaint
Jose and Linda Armstrong essentially complain the February 11 story unfairly highlights Salisbury Ave. The complainants argue they are not saying Salisbury Ave should not have been identified by the Chronicle at all. Rather, they say the article unduly highlighted the Salisbury Ave raid when it should have given at least equal prominence to other places where raids were carried out (particularly in other affected Wanganui suburbs). The complainants say the Chronicle engaged in unfair and unbalanced reporting by concentrating on Salisbury Ave when the house in question was just one of many across the North Island targeted. The complainants say the reputation of the street and the residents has been damaged by the association with gang activity. And they say the article “gravely” affects the marketability of properties in the vicinity.

The complainants also claim the follow up (12 February) Chronicle story merely compounded the problem, since it detailed some negative events that had happened in the street over the previous decade.

The Response
Wanganui Chronicle responds by denying the claim its reporting was unfair, unbalanced or biased. It refers to the fact there was indeed a police raid at a house in Salisbury Ave on the day in question. It says it gave proper prominence to the fact the Salisbury Ave raid was part of a much wider police operation. The Chronicle says it was not able to identify the Wanganui streets where other raids were carried out because the police would not identify those addresses. The Chronicle knew about the Salisbury Ave property because one of its reporters happened to see police activity there on the day.

Wanganui Chronicle says nothing in the February 11 article suggested Salisbury Ave was rife with gang activity. It says it referred to Salisbury Ave merely as a place at which police conducted an operation. It says that nothing in its reporting cast aspersions on Salisbury Ave residents or suggested illegal activities were regularly carried on there. It points to various positive references to Salisbury Ave in the article published the following day.


The Decision
Wanganui Chronicle’s February 11 article accurately reported an event which occurred in Salisbury Ave the day before. The article described the raid in question as being part of much wider police investigations. There was nothing in the article which suggested the Salisbury Ave property was the centre or sole object of the police operation. There was nothing in the article associating Salisbury Ave residents with gang activity. Nor did the article suggest Salisbury Ave was a street known for criminal behaviour.

Wanganui Chronicle is correct in the Council’s view in comparing this incident to many others when streets or specific addresses are identified in media coverage of adverse events.

The Council notes the Chronicle’s 12 February story regarding Salisbury Ave. This piece when viewed objectively refers to the street and its residents in a constructive and positive light. While listing various negative events as have occurred in the previous decade or so these events are really described as being isolated and out of character with the neighbourhood. The Council does not interpret the 12 February story (which followed the previous piece in the very next edition) as the complainants do.

The Council regards the articles complained about as being balanced and fair. It does not see them as being misleading.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.