SKY TV AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD AND STUFF (CONTINUED)

Case Number: 2547 and 2548

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld with Dissent

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Bias
Conflict of Interest
Unfair Coverage

Overview

The Press Council ruling on Sky TV against New Zealand Herald and Stuff was too large to be accommodated in the website fields.

This is the last section of the ruling.

The Response

The Decision

Principle 10

47. It is now necessary to turn to a number of matters that covered both complaints. The first is the reliance on Principle 10 relating to conflicts of interest, which reads:

To fulfil their proper watchdog role, publications must be independent and free of obligations to their news sources. They should avoid any situations that might compromise such independence. Where a story is enabled by sponsorship, gift or financial inducement, that sponsorship, gift or financial inducement should be declared.

Where an author’s link to a subject is deemed to be justified, the relationship of author to subject should be declared.

48. First, we think Mr Currie was right when he stated in his submission to the Council that this principle is designed to ensure that there must be an independence and freedom of obligation to a source. There should be an avoidance of situations that could compromise a journalist or publication, and if there is any sponsorship gift or financial inducement, that should be declared.

49. Mr Crewdson, in his response to the Council, notes that Sky’s allegation in a general way was that the reporting by Stuff was coloured by the Fairfax stance on the news access rule and its decision not to send a coverage team or seek accreditation. But he points out the journalists who wrote the stories complained of were not involved in negotiations with Sky or any decision-making about it. He said the executive editor, Sinead Boucher, was quoted as a source, which was appropriate given she represented the Fairfax position.

50. Mr Crewdson stated there was a reasonable degree of separation to ensure an appropriate level of independence. We agree with that.

51. We would make the further point that any reasonable reader of these stories would understand there was a commercial dispute between Sky and Fairfax publications, and theNew Zealand Herald. They would be left in no doubt that the parties were at the opposite ends of the spectrum of this commercial dispute. We see no breach of Principle 10.

Isentia Report

52. Sky provided us with material from an organisation known as Isentia, which is said to be an independent report. The publishers complain that the methodology means that a republished story is counted effectively as a separate story, or as a number of stories if it is in other publications or on different digital platforms.

53. Whether or not this organisation produces independent reports is beyond the mandate of the Council. And in any event, it is methodology that is not before us to make any such finding. Sky chose not to reveal this information to the Council as they did with the amount of live coverage on Prime.

General Comment

 54. Finally, there was reference by Ms Way to the proposed merger between NZME and Fairfax. It is totally irrelevant to our considerations. It is a matter that was before the Commerce Commission at the present time, which will no doubt rule whether such a merger should proceed.

55. We would also add we have made no findings that would support upholding any of the complaints made by Sky except to the extent of the dissent noted below. Indeed to the contrary we considered the articles complained of were fair and balanced and breached none of our Principles, except to the extent noted below. Frankly, reading Ms Way’s complaints in isolation from the articles one would think Sky had not even been asked for comment. Given the nature and content of those complaints it is almost surprising to find the comments from Sky in these articles.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Ruth Buddicom, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, and Tim Watkin.

One member dissented, and asked that his dissent be noted, on grounds of balance in relation to the ‘Don’t criticise our commentators, Sky TV demanded in its Olympic media rules' only.

John Roughan, Vernon Small and Mark Stevens took no part in the consideration of this complaint.