SCOTT BAKER AGAINST HURUNUI NEWS

Case Number: 2271

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2012

Verdict: Upheld with Dissent

Publication: Hurunui News

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Photographs
Accuracy
Misleading

Scott Baker says a picture in the Hurunui News on June 21 2012 conveyed a misleading impression of a proposed large irrigation pond, described in the accompanying story. He said the tranquil picture was akin to a low-lying duck-shooting pond, whereas dam walls up to 13 metres high and 1000 metres long were being proposed. Many local people feared the North Canterbury project could be a major flooding risk.
The complaint about the picture is upheld by a majority of 9:2. The complaint about lack of balance in the report is not upheld.



The complaint:
Mr Baker objected on the Press Council principles of Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; and Photographs and Graphics.
He supplied information, from Waimakariri Irrigation Ltd's website, which showed the height of the proposed dam as well as graphics of how it could look. The newspaper story identified the website by name but did not publish the pictures.
Writing to the newspaper after its story appeared, Mr Baker also supplied an image of what an actual pond storage dam could look like, to try to correct the impression conveyed by the published picture. He stressed that his image was of a similar but smaller dam structure
As well, contrasting what was proposed with the newspaper's picture, Mr Baker said there was a "very real concern" of risks among people living near a 13-metre wall that had 10 metres of water behind it covering one kilometre square.
"If it was a tranquil lake set low to the surrounding area, then no such risk is perceived."
He was also concerned about "balance" in the story's reported comments, since it had not provided a detailed description of the size of the structure from the WIL website. This information could have been obtained easily, with a bit of research. Moreover, only one party had been referred to in the story.
In his complaint to the Press Council, Mr Baker said the picture used in the newspaper did not fairly portray the nature of the project being discussed in the article. "It misleads readers into believing that the project is smaller than what is really planned."



Editor's response:
Editor Robyn Bristow said the image used was a file photograph to attract readers to the story. The accompanying caption merely said Waimakariri Irrigation Ltd "is getting set to apply for consents for its proposed storage ponds." The caption did not say the picture was showing the actual ponds.
Use of the phrase "proposed storage ponds" suggested they had not been built, which also suggested the photograph was not of the proposed ponds. The picture was never intended to portray the extent of the project.
She had not seen the resource consent application yet, as it had not been filed at the time the story was published, so did not have details of the proposed dam's structure.
The story was well balanced. As well as reporting WIL's plans, the story had detailed opposition from landowners. The report noted their concerns about the potential flooding risk to lives and the region's social, economic, financial and environmental wellbeing.
In a subsequent report, on July 5, the newspaper showed how the landowners in the first report were part of a wider group called Dam-Wrights. The later story reported the group's concern that the proposal was not merely for storage ponds but for "genuine dams".
The website to which Mr Baker referred no longer had any photographs on it. The picture supplied by Mr Baker was not similar to what was proposed - it was much smaller.



Press Council Decision
The majority of the Council thought the picture published was misleading, and the editor admits it was a file photograph. Pictures supplied by Mr Baker give a completely different impression of what is proposed. It was remiss of the newspaper not to probe a bit deeper, especially as it reported the website's address in the story accompanying the offending picture.
The Council notes the increasing use of stock images and cautions against their indiscriminate use. If a stock image is to be used it must be of direct relevance to the accompanying story, and must not mislead. It should also be suitably ascribed.
The Press Council must assume that the website contained the artist's impressions of the proposed development at the time the story was published.
The Council notes there is some confusion about whether the consent applications had been lodged, as the story said WIL was to lodge consent applications in a few weeks, whereas landowners opposed to the project said the consents had already been lodged.



Mr Baker's complaint about the picture is upheld, by a majority. His complaint about lack of balance is not upheld.



Two Council members, Penny Harding and Clive Lind, did not uphold the complaint about the picture. They said the article and headline made it clear that consents for the project had yet to be applied for and the picture showed a completed pond. It could not possibly represent the as-yet-unapproved project itself and was clearly there for illustrative purposes only. The caption did not offer any identifying information and while the complainant showed diagrams of what the project would look like, the dissenters said it was an editor's prerogative to illustrate the article as she saw fit. Readers of a community paper would also likely be aware of the project's progress and wouldn't be misled.



Press Council members upholding the complaint about the photo were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Keith Lees, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.
Press Council members who would not uphold the complaint about the photo were Penny Harding and Clive Lind.