NZ FEDERATION OF FAMILY BUDGETING SERVICES AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 2464
Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2015
Verdict: Not Upheld
Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Mike Curry, Service Support Manager for the NZ Federation of Family Budgeting Services, claims a story about the Responsible Lending Code, published by the Fairfax Media news website Stuff.co.nz, is fundamentally inaccurate.
The complaint is not upheld.
Stuff.co.nz published a story on June 18 from a meeting of Parliament’s Commerce Select Committee.
It involved discussion around the implementation of consumer credit law reforms, including the Responsible Lending Code.
Labour MP and consumer affairs spokesman David Shearer raised concerns about lenders not being required to disclose total costs, i.e. the amount paid after interest rates had been added to purchase prices.
Shearer used the example of ‘mobile truck shops’ selling food goods to vulnerable people at exorbitant prices. The huge prices came not in the amount initially charged, but in the amount ultimately paid in the ‘lay-by’ schemes.
Shearer said it was a ‘huge omission’ of the recent Responsible Lending Code not to require lenders to tell buyers the total price they would ultimately pay.
According to the Stuff.co.nz report, Consumer Affairs Minister Paul Goldsmith acknowledged the issue of disclosing full costs should be looked at.
The complainant said the story made several errors, one of which was key: That the Code did not require lenders to tell people the total price they would ultimately pay once interest rates were added.
Links to relevant clauses in the Code and the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act were provided. They included one which said that, where lenders “referring to the amount of regular repayments for a particular term loan, include an indication of the total costs of borrowing…”
The complainant said the Stuff.co.nz story gave the impression the Code was not worthwhile. But this was based on ‘omissions’ which were in fact included in the legislation.
A follow-up article, correcting the inaccuracy and linked to the original, was suggested by the complainant.
The complaint was dealt with by Tracy Watkin, as Fairfax Media’s Political Editor.
The editor said the story was straight reporting of the Commerce Committee meeting.
Although the editor noted that the reporter had checked Shearer’s comments against the Code, she said the complainant’s actual issue seemed to be the accuracy of comments made by some MPs.
The accuracy of the MPs’ comments was separate to the accuracy of the meeting report.
The meeting was reported in a fair, accurate and balanced way. The balancing comment from Goldsmith did not dispute Shearer’s interpretation of the law.
Although not relevant to a claim of breach of Press Council principles, the editor pointed out the select committee meeting was covered by qualified privilege.
The editor is right in that qualified privilege is not relevant to a claim of breaching Press Council principles.
However, the editor is also correct that the story was an accurate report of the select committee meeting. Because of this, the complaint isnot upheld.
It is worth noting, however, that the editor should have addressed the issue of accuracy with the complainant.
Had it been determined that the information provided by the MPs during the course of the hearing was wrong, then it would have been preferable for the website to update the story or provide an accurate follow-up.
It is important editors remember their responsibility is to their audience, and to provide them with accurate and relevant information. The Council notes that it is not too late for the online version of the story to be annotated with a reference to the provisions of the Code.
Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.
Liz Brown took no part in the consideration of this complaint.