PAT CARTWRIGHT AND BEV JENKINS AGAINST THE TIMARU HERALD

Case Number: 2171

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2011

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Timaru Herald

Ruling Categories: Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Photographs
Accuracy

Bev Jenkins and Pat Cartwright complained that Mrs Cartwright's house was pictured on the front page of The Timaru Herald and wrongly reported to be owned by Allan Hubbard whose properties, the story said, might be sold by statutory managers following the collapse of his company, South Canterbury Finance.

The newspaper admitted the error and published a correction on its front page the following day.

The complainants were not satisfied because they had asked for the photograph of the house to be republished with the correction.

They also complained that the newspaper used information from an official property information agency, Quotable Value, without QV's consent.

The complaint is not upheld.

Complaint
Bev Jenkins says her mother was distressed to pick up her morning paper on September 3, 2010, and see a colour photograph of her home under a headline, "Hubbard's properties may be sold".

She says Mrs Cartwright owns the home freehold under a family trust. Mr Hubbard is the trustee, a role he previously shared with Mrs Cartwright's late husband. Ms Jenkins says Mr Hubbard has never had a financial interest in the property.

Mr Hubbard is listed as the owner of the property on the QV website but the complainants argue the newspaper needed QV’s consent to use information from the site.

They cite a copyright note on the website that states information is for "your own lawful internal use and you agree not to further disseminate the information supplied and in particular, not to publish it by written, broadcasting, videotex, electronically on computer encoded mediums or by other means, without the written consent of Property IQ."

The Newspaper's Response
The deputy editor of The Timaru Herald said it had taken pictures of a number of properties listed on the QV website in the name of Mr Hubbard or his wife. Mrs Cartwright's house was chosen at random to illustrate the story.

He points out that the address was not published and since the house was in a rural area he believes it would not have been recognised by the vast majority of his readers.

After Mrs Cartwright's son pointed out the error, the deputy editor agreed to publish a correction on the front page the next day.

He said it was not normal practice to republish the picture in this situation and he could see no reason to do so. Those who had recognised the house the previous day would connect it with the correction. For those unfamiliar with the house, its picture would serve no purpose.

Though the published correction was headed "clarification" it was in a front page column headed in red and distinguished by a coloured background.

He and the editor considered the complainants' request for a second correction containing the photograph and decided they had done enough.

On the question of permission to use QV information, the deputy editor said newspapers are actively encouraged to carry QV data on property sales and the like. Written permission for any other use of its information had never been required as far as he was aware.

The Decision
The Council can readily understand Mrs Cartwright's distress at seeing her home wrongly presented as a Hubbard property facing a possible forced sale.

But the newspaper promptly admitted its mistake on its front page the next day.
The admission should have been entitled "correction" and some Council members felt it should have included the photograph since it was the visual impact of this that was likely to have attracted attention to the erroneous potential sale of the property.
However, no other property had been pictured with the story and it is not normal practice to republish the offending picture in these circumstances.
It would have been useful in the Council's view if the correction had explained that the error arose because the property is held by a family trust but listed in Mr Hubbard's name as sole trustee.
That information could have alerted readers to the possibility that the original story might have been based on a misunderstanding about many of the properties Mr Hubbard appeared to own.
On the question of the newspaper's use of QV information, the editor has supplied a letter he received from Property IQ in which its research director explains that the error on its website arose from the title held by Land Information NZ, which showed Allan Hubbard as sole trustee rather than one of two.

The letter confirms the agency's assertion of copyright and its requirement for written permission. It says, "While we usually grant this permission, we usually discourage media organisations from using our website to publish information about individuals or individual properties."

In this case, it says, "We would also have pointed out that the appearance of Allan Hubbard's name on the title does not signify ownership, but more likely that he was a trustee."

Be that as it may, the Council accepts that the newspaper was unaware of QV's terms and conditions of use, and unaware of the possibility that listed owners might be trustees with no beneficial claim on the property.

The Council is concerned that these things may not be well enough known in the media and hopes this complaint will draw it to editors' attention.

In this case the newspaper appears to have acted in good faith throughout.

The complaint is not upheld.

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

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