TIM MANU AGAINST KAPI-MANA NEWS
Case Number: 2203
Council Meeting: AUGUST 2011
Verdict: Not Upheld
Publication: Kapi-Mana News
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
Balance, Lack Of
On April 19, 2011 an article appeared in Kapi-Mana News headed “NZ First Mana electorate committee “moves on” from Tim Manu”. The article was loaded on Stuff.co.nz with the same heading. The article said that the Mana electorate secretary/treasurer, in a letter to Kapi-Mana News, stated Mr Manu was “not deputy chairman and has no association with the Mana Electorate Committee of the NZ First party”.
This was in response to a claim by Mr Manu to the paper on March 17 that “he was one of the contact people for the electorate committee ‘as I am the deputy chair’”. The party, presumably via the secretary/treasurer, argued that the deputy chair post had been vacant until filled at the beginning of April by Marise Bishop, who it claimed was appointed at a regional party meeting.
Mr Manu had, according to the article, “laughed off” suggestions that he has tried to present himself as the local face of the party, despite his claim on 17 March to be deputy chair.
An exchange of emails took place between Mr Manu and Kapi-Mana News, initially requesting a published response to the article, but then lodging a formal complaint with the paper. The complaint claimed that the heading was misleading; that aspects of the information contained in the article were incorrect; that he had not “laughed off” suggestions, as he had communicated with the reporter only by email; and that he was legitimately deputy chair at the time.
Bringing the complaint to the Press Council Mr Manu alleged that the article breached Council principles of accuracy, fairness and balance; comment and fact; headlines and captions; and conflicts of interest (the latter was with regard to a claim he had made that the paper’s article was likely to be politically biased, a claim strongly rebutted by the editor.)
The Newspaper’s Response:
The editor responded that Mr Manu has a history of complaint with the paper over a range of issues; however this did not imply bias or assumption with regard to the article in question.
With regard to Mr Manu’s dissatisfaction that his email was not included in the article, the editor replied that the article had already been submitted before Mr Manu’s email was received, and it had not been anticipated. Further, the email did not warrant the revision of the article, as the reporter had spoken with Mr Manu the week before the article was printed.
The editor backed his reporter, stating that he had had difficulty in contacting Mr Manu, who had not answered some questions asked by the reporter; nor had the reporter given any indication that responses would automatically be published. The editor felt that the article’s focus was on whether or not Mr Manu was undermining the party by claiming to be deputy chair and not on other issues that he raised in his email.
A threat of legal action by Mr Manu (later withdrawn) was also an incentive for the paper not to publish the response. However Mr Manu had been invited to pursue any complaint he might have, through the editor. An emailed complaint had been received almost a month after the article was published, and it was the only complaint received about the story.
The editor rebutted the claim that the headline was misleading, as it reflected the story’s content, believed at the time to be accurate. The paper had been contacted mid-March by Ms Bishop, as deputy chair of the Mana Electorate, expressing concerns about Mr Manu still claiming to be deputy chair and undermining the party. Mr Manu’s attempt to get the paper to state that he was deputy chair, in an earlier article on Winston Peters’ speaking engagement, had been checked by the paper with the Electorate secretary, who had confirmed Ms Bishop as the legitimate holder of the role.
While the editor felt his reporter should have attempted to contact the former committee chair for her contribution, the reporter was having sufficient difficulty contacting Mr Manu. To add to the confusion, Mr Manu, having originally claimed that there were two deputy chairs, now claimed that Ms Bishop was appointed illegally. While there may have been oversights in the reporter’s background work for the article, these did not constitute bias.
On May 24 the editor had contacted NZ First Party President Kevin Gardener, who believed that Ms Bishop was the deputy chairperson for the branch. A further question to Mr Gardener had not yet received a response, and was the cause of a delay in responding to Mr Manu. Should Mr Manu’s complaint be found to be valid, then the paper was committed to reporting this ‘as soon as is practical’ and Mr Manu had been informed of this.
The editor received a late reply from the NZ First Party President confirming Ms Bishop’s co-option (not election) to deputy chair in December last year, although the Secretary/Treasurer had stated this happened in April 2011. On July 26, Kapi-Mana News published a clarification to this effect.
Mr Manu, in response, reiterated his complaints.
It is obvious from the editor’s response to the Council, that the newspaper has gone to considerable lengths to determine the legitimacy of Mr Manu’s complaint. This had not been easy, as there was evidence from a former committee chair that there may in fact have been two deputy chairs (Ms Bishop and Mr Manu) at one point, but the paper had ultimately relied on the evidence of the current chair, the current secretary/treasurer, and subsequently had this backed up by the NZ First Party President. The paper was therefore correct in stating that Ms Bishop was the deputy chair at the time that the article was published, although the situation was obviously muddy.
In relation to the comment that Mr Manu “laughed off” suggestions, the Council notes his email to the reporter commenced “Haha thanks [reporter’s name]”. Hence the comment about laughing off suggestions could have arisen from this.
This complaint has largely revolved around the issue of whether or not Mr Manu was entitled to call himself deputy chair. He obviously believed that he was (with some evidence from past branch members/office holders to support this belief) but the current office holders, including at national level, disputed this claim. The paper acted responsibly in trying to ascertain the accuracy of Mr Manu’s claims, both before and after publication of the article. While there may have been some minor oversights by the reporter, the Council believes that the paper acted appropriately.
The complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.