LOUISE WICKHAM AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2396

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2014

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage

Introduction
Louise Wickham claims that an article published on nzherald.co.nz on June 18, 2014, was overly negative and unbalanced and, therefore, breached Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance).
The complaint is not upheld.

Background
The article published on nzherald.co.nz was provided by news service BusinessDesk.
It covered the response of Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision to reject its application to mine iron sand off the coast of Patea.
The article was based on a statement from TTR because the company responded before actual details of the EPA decision were made public.
TTR was “extremely disappointed with the decision”.
No reasons for the EPA decision were given in the body of the article, although it was reported to be a win for the lobby group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) and a blow to the Government.
Subsequent to the BusinessDesk article being provided to nzherald.co.nz, the full EPA decision was embedded in the article.

Complaint
The article was unduly negative and did not mention any of the EPA’s reasons for rejecting TTR’s application to mine.
Although a full link to the decision was provided, readers would have been left with a negative impression of what was a balanced EPA decision.
The article went beyond bad reporting and smacked of advocacy.
A word count showed most space was given to TTR’s viewpoint, very little was given to KASM’s ‘victory’ and none was given to the reasons behind the EPA decision.
The article was biased and unfair.

Editor’s response
The response was provided by New Zealand Herald business editor Liam Dann but included additional comment from BusinessDesk editor Pattrick Smellie.
BusinessDesk is a wire service providing content continuously as developments occurred.
The article was provided to the Herald before the EPA decision was available. nzherald.co.nz then included a link to the full decision.
At more or less the same time a separate version of the story - but including reaction and detail of the decision - was written by a New Zealand Herald staff reporter and published in a different, more prominent area of the website.
A further follow-up article - also including reaction and decision detail - was provided by BusinessDesk and published in full in the New Zealand Herald newspaper the following day.

Discussion
Herald coverage, online and in print, of TTR’s bid to mine iron sand off Patea had also included articles leading up to and after the EPA decision.
The Press Council principle on Accuracy, Fairness and Balance allows for balance to be judged over a number of stories, rather than a single report.
nzherald.co.nz did include a link to the full EPA decision, which included its reasons, within the BusinessDesk article.
Linking to relevant documents, reports etc within editorial content is now a normal part of modern digital storytelling. It should be viewed as an advantage to the reader.
Although it was odd to feature two different versions of the same story on the same day, the separate article by the staff reporter did also include EPA reasoning and KASM reaction.
nzherald.co.nz time stamps suggest the staff reporter’s version was published before the BusinessDesk copy.
The link in the BusinessDesk article, as well as the additional Herald reporting, made for fair and balanced coverage of the matter. The complaint is not upheld.

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