NEIL SINCLAIR AGAINST SOUTH WAIKATO NEWS

Case Number: 2223

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2011

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: South Waikato News

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
Politicians
Accuracy

Neil Sinclair, mayor of the South Waikato District, complained that a report of a District Council decision on Maori representation carried an inaccurate headline, contained editorial comment and accused the council of denying the public a vote on the issue. The complaint is not upheld.

Background
On August 10 the South Waikato News published comment from the mayor, various council members and others on the council's decision not to establish dedicated Maori seats, and not to put the question to a poll.

The story was headed, "Council vetoes bid for Maori seat" and said, "the public will not be allowed a say by the council."

The next day the council issued a press statement advising that if 5 percent of the district's registered voters made a formal submission in favour of Maori seats the council would be obliged to conduct a poll.

It explained how many signatures would be required, when the request must be received to be in time for the next election, and the cost of a poll.

The newspaper, a weekly, published this information in its next issue on August 17. The material appeared in a paragraph well down a story that raised questions about a meeting the mayor had told the council was held with representatives of the local iwi, Raukawa, in 2005.

At that meeting, according to the mayor, the iwi representatives had indicated they did not want a seat. They preferred to have an appointee on committees when something of significance to Maori was considered, and have a Maori advisory committee set up.

The newspaper's August 17 story quoted a Raukawa kaumatua saying he had made inquiries of leading kaumatua around the area and none of them could recall such a meeting.

A fortnight later, on August 31, the newspaper reported that the mayor's credibility had been questioned at a council meeting where the 2005 hui remained a mystery. The paper quoted the council's sole Maori member expressing concern that the decision on dedicated seats was based on information the mayor had supplied.

The Complaint
Mr Sinclair complained to the Press Council, supplying copies of his diary from 2005 that recorded his attendance at a hui on Maori representation and offering testimonials from two Maori leaders who attended it.

He was advised that complaints must first be taken to the editor, which he did.

The Editor's Response
The editor, Florence Kerr, stood by the headline on the August 10 story and held the story was not wrong, merely "incomplete" when it neglected to mention the right to petition for a poll. This, she said, was included in subsequent stories.

She believed the paper was justified in reporting confusion over the 2005 meeting but said the material supplied to the Press Council would have "influenced the subsequent stories"

When the material was made public the paper published the fact in a story headed, "Mayor tables proof of meeting".

Mr Sinclair was not satisfied and complained again to the Press Council.

The Decision
The Press Council does not believe the headline was misleading. While the words 'veto' and 'bid' were not well chosen they would not have misled readers.

Nor was the story in error when it said, "the public will not be allowed a say by the council." The proposition before the District Council was to invite the public to have a say through a poll; a standing right of citizens to petition for a poll is not the same thing.

A third point of complaint, confusion of fact and comment, appears to be based on a perception of the reporter's sympathy for separate Maori representation. Nevertheless, the reports are based on factual quotations and do not include editorial comment.

It may be the complaint is prompted less by these specific grounds than by the complainant's understandable annoyance that his credibility was called into question on the matter of the 2005 hui. He was able to provide the Press Council with documentary support; he could have furnished the editor with the same information in a timely manner.

The complaint is not upheld.

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

Clive Lind took no part in the consideration of this complaint.