ROGER BRYANT AGAINST GULF NEWS

Case Number: 2060

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2009

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Gulf News

Ruling Categories: Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Balance, Lack Of
Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Accuracy
Defamation/Damaging To Reputation


The Press Council has not upheld a complaint from Roger Bryant against the Gulf News over coverage of a public meeting by the Gulf News.

Background
Waiheke resident Roger Bryant wrote to the Gulf News on 19 October 2008 objecting to its coverage of the Annual General Meeting of the local group Community and People of Waiheke (Capow) on 12 October 2008. A lead article, an editorial and a letter to the editor dealing with the meeting appeared in its 16 October edition.

In a letter on 19 October, Mr Bryant told the editor he wanted to give “the other side of the story”. He objected to what he described as emotive language used by the writer of the newspaper’s front-page article and by the editor in his editorial.

The article, headed “Planned disruption of Capow meeting” outlined how a group of members had sought to disrupt the meeting with delaying tactics. The article contained extracts from an email sent by Mr Bryant to a group of 12 people outlining a delaying strategy designed to challenge the validity of the meeting and to prevent a senior official from the Auckland City Council outlining future development plans for Waiheke Island.

Mr Bryant further objected to a comment in the editorial in the same issue which referred to a small group of people who had attempted to “ambush” the meeting.

He also complained about the prominent placement of a letter to the editor which was critical of his conduct at the meeting and incorrectly stated that he was not a member of Capow.

Mr Bryant said he had been vilified by the coverage and this had been hurtful and damaging to him. His letter outlining his objections was published in full in the Gulf News on 23 October with a response from the editor, who defended the newspaper’s coverage saying it was based on accounts of what had happened at the meeting.

The Complaint
Mr Bryant brought his complaint to the Press Council on 6 November in reaction to the editor’s comments printed below his 23 October letter.

He said the Gulf News’ report had been unbalanced. His email had been quoted in the 16 October lead article without the contents being verified with him.

Referring to the letter to the editor, he said there had been an inaccurate assumption that he was not a member of Capow. He said this fact should have been checked by the editor. He said the letter talked about his “supposed domination of public meetings”. He viewed that comment as a personal attack and he viewed it as evidence that the coverage was not impartial.

He said the editor had promised to provide further coverage of the council official’s comments in the next issue, but that had not eventuated.

Mr Bryant said he had been the subject of unjustified hostility and the Gulf News’ coverage had brought him into disrepute.

The Newspaper’s Response
Editor Simon Johnston said his published reply, printed below Mr Bryant’s letter, had been in response to the complainant’s insistence that he make one.

As to his use of the email without verifying the contents with Mr Bryant, Mr Johnston said he double-checked with sources that the email was sent by Mr Bryant and concluded “there was an explicit intention to disrupt and delay and meeting”.

His promise of further coverage had not eventuated due to his having to take a sudden, unscheduled period of leave.

Discussion
Over several weeks in October, the Gulf News provided coverage of an important local issue – the AGM of Capow, which was to decide the group’s future shape and its role in any subsequent development proposals for Waiheke Island. Caught up in the middle of some vigorous local debate was the Auckland City Council official.

The Gulf News publicised the meeting ahead of time, together with the way the organisers had decided to conduct it, in order to deal both with the group’s affairs and to give the Council official a fair hearing.

Its lead story focused on an email outlining a strategy to disrupt the meeting and the subsequent actions of a small group – a number who had been party to the email – to delay the business so that the Council official would not have time to speak.

Which news angle the Gulf News took for its story was entirely a matter for the newspaper. However, its coverage, as viewed over several weeks, provided a full picture of events for local people. The lead story dealing with the delaying tactics was only one part. The editorial focused mainly on the development issues dealt with by the Council official. The letter to the editor was the view of a member of the public who attended the meeting.

Mr Bryant’s objections were published in full the next week with a response from the editor – though probably not the response Mr Bryant was seeking. The eventual outcome of the AGM was published on 30 October.

Conclusion
The Gulf News may have avoided some criticism by talking to Mr Bryant after the Capow AGM and before publishing its story about his email. However, its report of the meeting was a fair one and Mr Bryant was given space for a full response the next week. The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Beck, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Alan Samson and Lynn Scott.