ROD ORAM AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2503

Council Meeting: MAY 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Misleading
Photographs

Overview

Rod Oram complains about a photograph attached to an article published by the New Zealand Herald on February 20, 2016.He considers it to be factually incorrect and grossly misleading.

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.

Background

On February 20, 2016 the New Zealand Herald published on page 6-7 of theWeekend Herald an article commenting on aspects of the Auckland City Council’s proposed Unitary Plan. Specifically, it reported opposition to a proposal to increase the height limit for residential buildings in some suburbs.

The two-page article was illustrated with two general panoramic views of Auckland, one including the central city and some high rise buildings, and the other a suburban view with no high rise buildings. There was also a map showing the affected areas.

On the front page of the newspaper was a pointer box showing a picture of some one to two storey houses overshadowed by a high rise building and the text “The high-rise revolt. Battle in the suburbs.”

The Complaint

Mr Oram complains that the photograph in the pointer box is factually incorrect and grossly misleading. It is an image of a 17-storey building with a substantial service structure above the top story, when the maximum permitted height under the Unitary Plan proposal is seven storeys. In addition it is an extreme telephoto shot which grossly exaggerates the visual impact of the building on its neighbourhood.

The New Zealand Herald made no attempt to show the actual scale of buildings that would comply with the proposed limits.

He is of the view that the New Zealand Herald should run some accurate photographs of buildings that comply with the proposed standards together with an explanation of the deficiencies in the photograph used in the pointer box.

There is some suggestion in later correspondence that Mr Oram considers the New Zealand Herald’s general coverage of the Unitary Plan proposals to be unbalanced and to give undue weight to those opposed to the proposals.However, he did not include a complaint to this effect in his correspondence with theNew Zealand Herald and accordingly the Press Council has not considered it.

The Response

The editor of the Weekend Herald, Miriyana Alexander responded to Mr Oram. She explained that the high rise photograph came from the newspaper’s archive and was not taken for the purposes of the article. It was simply used as a generic image to illustrate the nature of the issues discussed in the article.At a later stage she explained that theNew Zealand Herald had covered the issues raised by the Unitary Plan since February 2013 and had regularly included graphic illustration of the proposed size of buildings.

The article itself was intended to explain the issues and was not one of advocacy for one side or the other. She considered that the article as a whole was accurate, fair and balanced and the graphics accompanying it were carefully selected to illustrate the theme. There was no technical manipulation, no attempt to mislead and no attempt to exaggerate the visual impact. She saw no need for a correction

The Decision

The Press Council’s principle 10 requires editors to “take care in photographic and image selection and treatment” and to explain or note any potentially misleading technical manipulation. It has been established that there was no technical manipulation of the image in this case. It is not entirely clear what constitutes “care” in the selection and treatment of photographs, but there would undoubtedly be a breach of the principle ifthe result was to provide an inaccurate, unfair or unbalanced indication of the contents of an article – in effect a breach of Principle 1, which requires accuracy, fairness and balance.

The question, therefore, is whether in this context the principles are breached by the use of an image of a 17-storey high rise building towering over its surroundings as a pointer to an article on opposition to the Unitary Plan provisions for two to seven storey limits in certain areas.

It is relevant that the article addresses a long-running issue that has been in the public arena for many months, thus reducing the need for explanations and for a completely balanced approach in each article. It is also relevant that the article itself clearly sets out the Unitary Plan’s proposed height limits.

By its nature, a pointer box cannot include any level of detail or explanation. Its function is to direct the reader to articles of potential interest by giving a broad indication of their content or of a key element of it. The reader can reasonably expect much more detail in the article itself.

In this case, the pointer to the article on plans for higher buildings was an image of a high rise building.It was somewhat exaggerated and no doubt designed to be eye-catching rather than a completely accurate depiction of the proposed building limits, but it was relevant and related to a key element of the article. Any misapprehension about the proposals would be corrected by even a skim-reading of the article itself.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Mark Stevens, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.