Case Number: 822

Council Meeting: May 2001

Verdict: Upheld in Part

Publication: Sunday News

Ruling Categories: Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Headlines and Captions

The Press Council has upheld a complaint by Mr Eric Rush about a report in Sunday News of 11 February 2001 that he had blamed the New Zealand Rugby Football Union for New Zealand's loss in the International Sevens Rugby tournament which had concluded in Wellington the previous day.

The Sunday News story, under the by-line of Neil Reid, identified Mr Rush as the "Sidelined sevens captain" (he was injured at the time). The burden of Mr Rush's complaint to the Press Council was that in the headline and first paragraph he was reported as blaming the New Zealand Rugby Football Union for stopping a number of players from taking part in the tournament, whereas, in the body of the report he had been correctly cited as directing his criticisms at the teams involved in the Super 12 competition.

The headline to the story left no room for doubt. It read: "Gutted! NZRFU to blame for loss says Rush." The opening paragraph reported, but did not quote, Mr Rush as having "slammed the NZRFU for costing his team victory" because it had "pulled six of the stars of the team who won the Sevens World Cup a fortnight earlier in Argentina". Further on, the article reports Mr Rush as follows: "At the end of the day, the decision was down to the Super 12 teams. It was a very bad one…"

In effect the article attributed two views on the one issue to Mr Rush, but directly quoted him only as saying that the blame rested with the Super 12 teams. Mr Rush, as a long-serving captain of the New Zealand Sevens side, would have had cause to be embarrassed by a report which had him "slam" the NZ Rugby Football Union itself. There was a clear discrepancy between the headline and lead paragraph of the article and the section in which his remarks were put in direct speech. Headlines should reflect the substance of the article. The complaint is upheld.

Mr Rush ­ in his complaint to the editor (which was sent by fax and received on 15 February) had asked that the errors be corrected and given due prominence in the next edition of Sunday News. He failed to provide a forwarding address. Nevertheless the editor replied to the fax number on 17 February pointing out that the newspaper's information was that the NZRFU had the final word in matters to do with availability of players and asking whether in the circumstances it was necessary to publish another story. Mr Rush, evidently, did not receive this letter. One prong of his complaint to the Press Council was that Sunday News had failed to respond. The Press Council finds however that the editor did his best to make contact with Mr Rush. His letter opened up an interesting question as to where the responsibility for selections actually lies. It was not the fault of Sunday News that this issue was not pursued and that no correction could be published. The Press Council accordingly sets aside this aspect of Mr Rush's complaint.