LEE VANDERVIS AGAINST OTAGO DAILY TIMES

Case Number: 2430

Council Meeting: MARCH 2015

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Otago Daily Times

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Photographs
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

The Complaint
Lee Vandervis, a Dunedin city councillor, has complained about a picture published in the Otago Daily Times on February 19, 2015 which depicted a debate in the council chambers about quarrying on Saddle Hill.
The picture centred on Cr Richard Thomson who was on his feet apparently speaking in an animated fashion. Several other people were in shot including Mr Vandervis who was prominent in the foreground.
He has complained that the shot selection was made at a time when he was blinking which makes him appear to be asleep.
He says this was compounded by the text accompanying the photo which did not mention his active contribution to the debate "reinforcing the photographic sleep deception".
The article quotes Cr Thomson and refers to other councillors raising concerns in the meeting but Cr Kate Wilson is the only other councillor quoted and mentioned by name.
The views of officials, representatives of the company and a local MP are included.

After the photo was published Cr Vandervis said many people remarked to him on his sleeping at Council and two days later when he lodged the complaint he was still being accosted in public about being asleep on the job.
Consistent ribbing from friends and acquaintances highlighted the wider damage done to him, he alleges.
The complainant attached other material for context, which he said amounted to a long train of misrepresentation of him. That included a complaint to police about a report card on councillors in 2013 which the police investigated, sought a legal opinion, but did not pursue.

The Newspaper Response
In reply on behalf of the ODT its editor Murray Kirkness denied the picture showed Mr Vandervis with his eyes closed, saying "your eyes are open. You appear to be looking at your hands".
He denied it was published to paint the complainant in a negative light and said it was a photo of Cr Thomson and was captioned as such. He suggested Cr Vandervis appeared to be looking at his clasped hands perhaps in a study of concentration and that the picture was no more of him than it was of Cr Doug Hall who was also in shot and could possibly be scratching his ear.
Mr Kirkness said no one other than Mr Vandervis had raised the photo with him nor had any correspondence been received by the ODT suggesting he was asleep.
He noted in a smaller wide photograph of the council meeting, published together with the larger photo and story, Cr Vandervis appeared to be taking notes.
Mr Kirkness said the reporter provided an accurate summary of the meeting not a verbatim transcript. Only two councillors were quoted and there was "nothing sinister" in Cr Vandervis not being one of them.
He has also rejected the wider complaint that the newspaper coverage of him had been routinely negative.


Discussion and Decision
Cr Vandervis clearly believes he is the object of unfair treatment over many years by the ODT although the paper strongly denies this.
This complaint though is focused on the photograph(s) and the attendant article and the allegation that they are misleading and unfair.

The photograph
While it is difficult to tell beyond doubt in the printed edition, it is clear from the photograph provided by the ODT that Cr Vandervis' eyes were open though he was looking downwards. He was not the subject of the photograph and it is fair to assume it was chosen because of Cr Thomson's animated appearance. It was captioned in that way and Cr Thomson was quoted at length. No other person appearing in the shot was named in the caption or quoted in the article. The smaller photo showed Cr Vandervis apparently taking notes at the meeting, adding weight to the editor's contention that photo selection was not motivated by a desire to show him in a bad light.

The text
The Council notes the article contained a balance of opinions about the Saddle Hill quarry controversy including councillors representing the meeting's decision, officials and the owners.
No doubt many councillors would have welcomed their contributions being included in the article.
But just as with coverage of any government debate, be it at a council or in Parliament, not all contributions can be included. While the article might have usefully noted that not all councillors were on the same page - if that was the case - it is hard to see how the published article can overall be seen as unfair, unbalanced or misrepresentative of the meeting because it failed to mention Cr Vandervis' specific contributions.

Cr Vandervis cites other Principles as having been breached, but does not argue them and they have not been considered.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Press Council members considering the complaint were Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.
Sir John Hansen took no part in the consideration of this complaint.