MATTHEW THREDGOLD AGAINST ROTORUA DAILY POST

Case Number: 2518

Council Meeting: JUNE 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Daily Post

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Conflict of Interest
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Matthew Thredgold complains about an article that appeared in the Rotorua Daily Post on 4 May 2016. He alleges breach of the principles of accuracy, fairness and balance, comment and fact and conflicts of interest.

The Article

The article concerned the plight of a terminally ill Rotorua woman who was suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).She lived at home with the assistance of palliative care.She was reliant on an invalid’s benefit and clearly faced significant health and financial problems.A close friend set up a Givealittle page for the ill woman.One of the issues she faced was cold, and the cost of heating.She had a pellet-burning woodburner in her home and a Taupo-based company, Nature’s Flame came to hear of her plight.As a consequence, they donated bags of pellets for her to use.

Any reading of this article makes this clear that it is about the plight of a terminally ill person, the efforts of a friend to assist her and the generosity of the community in assisting her.One part of this generosity was the donation of pellets.

The Complaint

Mr Thredgold alleges breach of a number of Press Council principles. His complaint can be summed up in the second paragraph, where he says:

Because it fails to recognise basic science facts the story is not accurate. The tragedy of using this woman’s disease, which quite possibly could have been caused by using wood pellets in the first place (and almost certainly is hastening her death now), to advertise the product, without warning possible customers about the link between wood smoke emissions and COPD I think is an amoral oversight. Despite the Bay of Plenty Regional Council getting its facts rather muddled as well, if the responder to my complaint had have looked at my links to scientific papers, rather than the dubious statement by the Regional Council, he would have been able to assess the true worth of the BOPRC’s assertions.

The Response

The regional editor responded that the story is about the efforts of a friend to help the terminally ill woman. He said the company in question did not approach the newspaper, but agreed to help the terminally ill beneficiary. He went on to say that it was not unusual for the media to publish articles about companies that donate goods or services to disadvantaged people.He said such stories are positive, and those helping out deserve to be commended.He concluded:

In summary, this story was not about promoting the use of wood pellets to heat homes.It was not about promoting a company that sells wood fire pellets.Nor was it ever designed to be an in-depth piece on the causes of COPD or provide any detailed investigation into pollution or impacts on health from fires.

The editor also referred to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s website which states that pellet burners are one of the most environmentally friendly ways of heating homes.That notes that pellet fires produce a fraction of the amount of particulates released in the air compared to non-compliant wood-burners.

The Decision

The Council agrees with the editor. This was a positive story about the community’s response to a terminally ill person confronted with real difficulties. It is clearly not a story about COPD, but rather a positive piece on a caring community.

Mr Thredgold’s statement that the ill woman’s disease “quite possibly could have been caused by using wood pellets in the first place” is mere speculation.It is clear from the article that she suffered from the disease before moving to Rotorua about three years ago.

If this had been an article on COPD or the merits of pellet-fired wood-burners, Mr Thredgold may have some basis for such a complaint.But the reference to wood pellets is only part of an overall story of community kindness. We consider that the publication was entitled to rely on the BPPRC’s web site. We see no breach of the principles of accuracy, fairness and balance.We consider the principle of comment and fact is irrelevant for current purposes.Finally, Mr Thredgold does not make out any relevant conflict of interest.

This was a story of empathy.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, John Roughan, Vernon Small, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

Jenny Farrell stood down from consideration of this complaint to ensure the public member majority.