PAUL ALLEN AGAINST MANUKAU COURIER

Case Number: 2236

Council Meeting: MARCH 2012

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Manukau Courier

Ruling Categories: Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Accuracy
Misleading

The Press Council has not upheld Paul Allen’s complaint against the Manukau Courier over a report on damage being caused to a park by mountain bikers on "illegal" tracks.

Background
In November 2011 a Parks Sport and Recreation report to the Manurewa Local Board recorded that loop tracks in Totara Park had been subject to vandalism. It also said informal mountain bike tracks had caused damage. The board would be working with members of the Auckland Mountain Bike Club to educate bikers, and gates had been reinstalled to stop bikes entering the loop tracks.
On November 18 the chief reporter of the Manukau and Papakura Couriers emailed questions to the Auckland Council based on the report, and asking about mountain bikers creating illegal tracks in the park.
The council emailed answers to the newspaper and on December 20 the Manukau Courier published a report based on them, saying illegal mountain bike tracks had caused significant damage to native bush areas in the park. It quoted Mike Bowater, the council's manager of local and sports parks. Additional comment from Manurewa Board member Cr Angela Dalton also featured.
Mr Allen then emailed a complaint to the newspaper about what he said were inaccuracies in the story and its suggestions that mountain bikers were causing damage. He added that $450,000-worth of purpose built mountain bike tracks had been built and maintained by the council over the last three years. Omission of that fact was "bizarre". "How could they forget this?"
He cc'd the letter to Cr Dalton, who replied to him that the "whole point" of the story had been to point out that purpose built tracks existed, that the council had spent money on them, and that it supported riders who used them legally and respected them. She was disappointed in the story that appeared.
She intended contacting the newspaper to seek a correcting story. (However, she did not do so, the editor later asserted to the Press Council.)
On January 12, after the Christmas break, the newspaper published Mr Allen's letter. However, it omitted a sentence in which he asked for a correcting article and some more explanation.
On January 12 Mr Allen emailed the editor again, upset about the way his letter had been edited and because the newspaper had not published a correcting report. Later he complained to the Press Council.

Manukau Courier response
Editor Judith Tucker accepted that Mr Allen's point of view was different from the story that initially appeared, but she did not accept that the story was wrong. She had edited his letter that appeared in the Manukau Courier as she did not accept its assertion that the story was wrong.
The reporter had sourced the story from an Auckland Council report to the Manurewa Local Board meeting, checked the background with Cr Dalton and asked questions of the Auckland Council. She provided those emailed questions and the council's answers to the Press Council.
She had not responded to Mr Allen's second email since he had had his say in the published letter to the editor. She considered his second email incorrect and had not wanted to engage in a "slanging match" over a story she believed to be totally correct.
She had not had an email from Cr Dalton, nor had her chief reporter.

Complainant's response
In reply, Mr Allen told the Press Council that all he wanted, in both letters he wrote to the editor, was a story to state that the park had purpose built mountain bike tracks paid for and built by the council, and which could be ridden lawfully. Claims that there were illegal tracks were wrong, as he had not seen them, still.
He wondered why the editor could not grasp the fact that a network of single tracks was available in Totara Park, constructed by the council for the use of mountain bikers, away from horses and walkers, where mountain bike riders had the right of way.

Discussion and Decision
Mr Allen takes issue with the thrust of the story, wishing instead it was about the $450,000 worth of purpose built mountain biking tracks, and the tree planting undertaken by a volunteer group. He notes that he has not seen any illegal tracks, and he says he does not want any future debate on public access for mountain-bikers driven by misinformation.
The Press Council finds no inaccuracy in the Manukau Courier article. All the information was sourced from reputable sources. The reporter was alerted to the “illegal tracks” by a report from Parks Sport and Recreation to the Manurewa Local Board. He developed the story by contacting, and quoting, both the local board representative and the Auckland Council.
Both Mr Allen and the Manukau Courier have valid points of view. They are not mutually exclusive. The published article was simply a small story about one aspect of the park management, possibly chosen because it was more newsworthy. It did not need to include material about the existing network of trails. Mr Allen’s point of view was expressed in the published letter.
The editor has told Mr Allen she is willing to do a follow-up story if and when the volunteer group starts working on extending the existing trails. This seems a positive outcome.
The complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.