Case Number: 871

Council Meeting: MARCH 2002

Verdict: Upheld in Part

Publication: New Zealand Retail

Ruling Categories: Privacy
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge

NZ Retail is the magazine of the Retail Merchants Association of New Zealand.
In-house advertisements published in the magazine were the subject of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board (ASCB) by Nicky Cassels.
The way in which the magazine described the complaint in a subsequent issue became the subject of a further complaint by Nicky Cassels, this time to the Press Council, which deals with editorial content.
She is the director of Adjust Media, which publishes a competing retail magazine, CounterAction. She has previously sold advertising for NZ Retail.
Before addressing the Press Council complaint, it is necessary to outline a series of events related to the advertisement complaint:
- On April 24, 2001 the executive officer of the NZ Audit Bureau of Circulation, Hilary Souter, wrote to the managing editor of NZ Retail, Martin Craig, taking issue with in-house advertisements on its circulation and distribution that had appeared. She suggested the advertisements be reworded on the way it described itself and in the way it presented circulation figures.
- - On May 10 the Advertising Standards Complaints Board advised NZ Retail that it was the subject of a complaint by Nicky Cassels over an in-house advertisement (presumed to be one of those also identified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.)
- - On May 18 the Chief Executive of the Retail Merchants Association, John Albertson, responded to the ASBC saying it had recently realised that the copy in the two advertisements ''was not entirely correct'' and they had been reworded for the June issue.
- - One June 25 the chairman of the Advertising Standards Complaints Board, Laurie Cameron, issued a decision on the Cassels complaint- namely that as the advertisements had been reworded, the matter had been ''resolved and could be regarded as settled.'' ''As the principles of self-regulation had been fulfilled it would serve no further purpose to place the matter before the board,'' his decision said.
The September issue of NZ Retail ran the following brief statement headed ''COMPLAINT AGAINST NZRETAIL REJECTED''
''The Advertising Standards Complaints Board has rejected a complaint against New Zealand Retail by Nicky Cassels [their emphasis] of Adjust Media. The complaint was made against the in-house ads published in NZ Retail itself. Adjust Media is the publisher of another retail periodical, Counteraction.''
Nicky Cassels’ complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority about this statement was referred to the Press Council. She claimed that the statement did not accurately reflect the finding of the ASCB and that it ''deliberately misleads and misinforms readers by omission of facts and published findings.''
She also objected to be being named as the complainant and having her name highlighted in bold. She said it portrays her in an unfavourable light and breached her privacy. She complained that in stating Adjust Media published another retail magazine was to imply malicious intent.
She also complained that a table of half-yearly circulation figures of retail publications run on the same page as the statement, with CounterAction (correctly) described as ''no audit received,'' was anti-competitive.
NZ Retail managing editor Martin Craig responded by saying he believed that while the actual wording of the ASCB chairman was not quoted in the newsbrief, he believed it was ''within the spirit of the decision.'' He said the matter had to be seen in context of the sequence of events, which he outlined as above.
''There was no negotiation between NZ Retail and the complainant or the ASBC,'' he said. ''The chairman, in the light of all the circumstances simply declined to put the matter before the board.''
The Press Council has no grounds for upholding a complaint about the publication of the circulation figures on the same page as the newsbrief. It is a perfectly acceptable competitive practice, not an anti-competitive one.
Nor are there any grounds for upholding a complaint on the basis that Nicky Cassels was named and highlighted in bold and that she was connected to a rival magazine. The name of the complainant was a relevant fact. But there are grounds for concern at the statement ''Complaint against NZ Retail rejected.”
The fact is that objections were made about the magazine's in-house ads by a professional body and the advertisements were subsequently corrected. That allowed the ASCB chairman to declare a similar complaint before him settled. To state that the complaint was rejected was wrong in fact and ''in spirit''.
The magazine acted properly and promptly on the letter it received from the NZ Audit Bureau of Circulation. Yet readers would have been misled into believing there had been no fault in the advertisements. NZ Retail misled by omitting the facts and making a statement that was not correct. That part of the complaint is upheld.