TFK INTERNATIONAL (ARIAKE RESTAURANT) AGAINST CANVAS MAGAZINE

Case Number: 2103

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2009

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Canvas Magazine

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Bias
Columnists
Accuracy
Defamation/Damaging To Reputation

The Ariake Restaurant, through its senior managers, laid a complaint about two reviews of its food and service published by the New Zealand Herald. One article, written by Ewan McDonald was published in Viva magazine on 27 November 2008. Another review of the restaurant, written by Carroll du Chateau, was published in Canvas on 9 July 2009. Although alleging bias about two negative reviews within an 8 month period, the complaint specifically was about the du Chateau review. The November 2008 review was out-of-time for a Press Council complaint, and could only be considered as background. The complaint is not upheld.
Background
Both pieces were critical of the restaurant. The first particularly criticised a flounder croquettes dish, Karei Kara-age. The du Chateau review created the impression of a rather lack-lustre meal and service, and was particularly critical of what the reviewer said was stale oil used in the cooking. This review was published under the heading “The Bad Oil”
The Complaint
Writing on behalf of the company operating the Ariake Restaurant, Miyuki Sakairi complained that the articles were damaging to the restaurant’s business at a time when restaurants are struggling to survive in hard economic times. Two bad reviews in Herald magazines within a short time were, in her opinion, an indication of the newspaper’s bias against the Ariake Restaurant.
Her letter of complaint to the Editor (in July) stated that the first article showed ignorance of a popular Japanese dish. The second article demonstrated that the writer clearly did not understand /or appreciate the flavour of sesame oil which had been used in the cooking.
In particular, the second article, suggesting that stale oil was used in cooking, would suggest to readers that the restaurant was careless of its hygiene. The restaurant had consistently scored an “A” rating from the Auckland City Council in its standards of hygiene.
She further stated that unless food reviewers are knowledgeable of the cuisine of a country, they should not review restaurants which have a strong ethnic focus in the food they serve. The reviewers failed to meet this requirement.
The Ariake complaint to the Press Council further identified the concern that Ms Sakairi’s letter of 22 July 2009 to the Editor of the NZ Herald had received no response by 16 September when the restaurant initiated its complaint to the Press Council.
In essence, the Ariake Restaurant has been in business for 29 years. A review, in a nationally recognised newspaper that questions the restaurant’s hygiene standards, is a very serious matter; as well, the restaurant feels that a new review should be written by someone who is familiar with Asian food and culture.
The Newspaper’s Response
The editor responded that the initial letter of complaint from the restaurant did not seem to indicate any action from the newspaper was required; therefore, the Canvas Editor had simply acknowledged receipt of same. (Evidence was supplied of this.)
The two articles were fair and honest accounts of the experiences of two different reviewers on two separate occasions. The two editors of NZ Herald magazines are independent of each other and the implication of collusion is denied.

Conclusion
Although the restaurant complained that two critical articles published by the same newspaper within a relatively short time is evidence of bias, the Press Council accepts that the articles were published in two separately and independently edited magazines of the NZ Herald.
Restaurant reviews are opinion pieces written about the actual experiences of the reviewers on particular occasions.
This review caused considerable concern to the complainants. However, newspapers choose reviewers who, in their opinion, have mana and expertise in the area in which they comment.
Moreover, the Press Council reiterates that opinion pieces may challenge or offend, but that is a legitimate role of the press. A reviewer is entitled to express an honestly held opinion of a particular dining experience.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.
John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.