ROY MYERS AGAINST NORTHERN OUTLOOK

Case Number: 2399

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2014

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Northern Outlook

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Headlines and Captions
Bias
Politicians
Unfair Coverage

Background
The Northern Outlook published an article on August 30, 2014 which covered a meeting of the five Waimakariri political candidates organised by the Rangiora Ministers Association. The piece includes specific information on NZ First candidate Richard Prosser’s promotion on the party list and the front page banner has a picture of Mr Prosser drawing the reader to the piece.
The Complaint
Roy Myers laid a complaint with the Northern Outlook citing coverage biased in favour of Mr Prosser and light in terms of NZ First policy coverage compared to the other four candidates. Mr Myers was not satisfied with the response from Northern Outlook so took his complaint to the Press Council citing breach of principles 1 (Accuracy, fairness, balance), 6 (Headlines and captions) and 7 (Discrimination and diversity).
The Northern Outlook Response
Geoff Mein, Editor, Press Communities responded for Northern Outlook. Mr Mein explained that he had told the complainant that the story was focused on Mr Prosser’s promotion in the NZ First Party list ranking, just a year after he had attracted considerable attention and controversy over some comments he had made about Muslims.
Given Mr Prosser’s comments about Muslims at that time had gained national and international attention, the publication considered his promotion on the party listing, and high chance of returning to Parliament, was a matter of sufficient public interest to elicit Mr Prosser’s explanation of his previous comments.
Mr Mein rejects the coverage of Mr Prosser being biased in favour of the NZ First candidate, particularly given the specific focus on Mr Prosser’s comments about Muslims a year earlier. Moreover, the coverage of the NZ First candidate was one of many Northern Outlook had run in the weeks leading up to the election. Mr Mein drew the Council’s attention to its coverage of the other candidates. These articles were also brought to the complainant’s attention.
In regards to the complainant’s point about the skybox (front page banner picture), Mr Mein explained it was not promoting Mr Prosser but a promotion of the article inside.
Decision
Coverage of candidates leading up to an election can be a sensitive topic. Media organisations and publications fully understand this, and their responsibilities to provide balance. The Council agrees with Mr Mein. The August 30 article sits within a series of politically focussed articles that sought to provide coverage of candidates, including the five candidates vying for the Waimakariri electorate seat. The paper chose to focus on Mr Prosser’s high list ranking, likely return to Parliament given that ranking, and previous comments about Muslims.
Given the opportunity of the candidates meeting, the journalist has interviewed Mr Prosser with the aim of it being a part of that series of candidate-focussed articles. The article itself which covers Mr Prosser’s comments about Muslims, and noted his late arrival at the meeting, cannot be said to be biased in favour of the candidate as Mr Myers alleges.
The Council agrees with the explanation put forward by Mr Mein about the skybox and notes it reflects industry practice.
On all principles cited by the complainant, the Council does not uphold the complaint.
Press Council members considering the complaint were Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.