Case Number: 814

Council Meeting: February 2001

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of

The New Zealand Press Council has not upheld a complaint by Professor Gary Nicholls from the Christchurch School of Medicine against an article in the Christchurch Press dated 7 October 2000.

The article was headlined 'Hospital Chiefs fostered split' and the complaint dealt specifically with four paragraphs which quoted a caller to the Press, who wished to remain anonymous. The comments were in regard to intimidation and bullying among staff at Christchurch hospital.

Professor Nicholls believed that, if the comments were from a person of some stature, then he or she should be prepared to debate such an important issue openly by revealing their identity. If the person was likely to be ill informed, then The Press should not have published such opinions. Professor Nicholls was concerned with the fairness of the reporting. He stated that the information provided by the unnamed caller was contrary to that known to himself and his colleagues and conflicted with the investigation presented by the Stent Inquiry. He also believed that the unnamed caller's remarks detracted from the views presented by Mr Ian Powell who is the executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists and whose comments opened the article.

Tim Pankhurst, editor of The Press, responded that The Press had judged the person making the comments to be in a position to speak with authority and felt that it was significant that the caller was too intimidated to be identified publicly. The disputed comments were one side of the argument and Mr Powell had been given generous space and the headline for his statements. The Press defended its fundamental right to protect the source.

The Council considered that it would have been preferable had the unnamed caller been endorsed as someone whom the editor had assured himself was a reliable source, rather than being referred to as a 'caller who wished to remain anonymous'.

However because comments were from a source which was unnamed it does not follow that the information is unreliable. Professor Nicholls had fastened on to the caller's anonymity but the unnamed caller's views had also been reinforced by those reported earlier in the article from the Buchanan report and from the chief executive of the hospital.

The complaint was not upheld.