TITAHI BAY RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION AGAINST KAPI-MANA NEWS

Case Number: 2465

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2015

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Kapi-Mana News

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Introduction

Titahi Bay Residents Association alleged that an article in the Kapi-Mana News on 16 December 2014 breached Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Principle 12 Corrections of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

The complaint was not upheld.

Background

The article was about a long running dispute between the Porirua City Council (Council) who want to demolish the Marines Hall (the hall) and groups who oppose demolition, and covered a Council meeting where the recommendation for demolition was discussed. The groups opposed to demolition include the Titahi Bay Residents Association (TBRA). The article headline read “Hall costs up to $165,000”.

The Council had provided Kapi-Mana News with information on costs already incurred in assessing whether the hall should be demolished or repaired and noted Committee recommendations to Council to demolish the hall.The report also noted supporters of repairing the hall filled the public gallery at the Council meeting and made their views known.

This complaint was accepted “out of time” as the complainant had difficulty in obtaining information from the Council resulting in a request for information under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, and the time taken for TBRA to put the information together and obtain organisational approval to proceed.

The Complaint

Complaint

TBRA, through their Chairman Graeme Ebbett, stated that the newspaper knowingly misled readers by including information from a Council press release as though it was an authentic report of a Council meeting witnessed by the reporter when the reporter was not in attendance.

They believed that the article was loaded with biased information about excessive rate-payer costs to date and justification for demolition and included an incorrect comment attributed to TBRA that it was likely to appeal to the Environmental Court which would add to Council costs.

When TBRA sent a letter of complaint to the newspaper, the letter was published in the letters to the editor section and was edited in such a way that “destroyed the impact and relevance of the letter”. They also felt that the removal of Cr before Ken Douglas, a Council member, was a lack of respect towards Cr Douglas.

TBRA want Kapi-Mana News to publish an admission, apology and correction of facts.

The Response

The Newspaper’s Response

Newspaper editor Joseph Romanos replied that there is a long running dispute, or series of disputes, between Council and TBRA.Kapi-Mana News has reported on these issues over the years where they have been seen as newsworthy.Kapi-Mana News itself has no editorial position on TBRA. Kapi-Mana News simply reports matters as they arise.

Kapi-Mana News acknowledges that the reporter was not at the Council meeting, but stated that it is not unusual to report on events despite not attending. When this happens, newspapers follow normal journalistic practices. Relevant people are contacted and follow up calls are made where necessary. The complainant has also been contacted previously for comment on issues relating to Titahi Bay.

The reporter wanted to write a story about the funding surrounding the hall and asked the Council for information regarding financial details relating to the hall as he wanted accurate figures.

Kapi-Mana News received an email from Council with the costing details and following the Council meeting the reporter made calls to councillors and officials present at the meeting to check for accuracy before writing his report.

The Council meeting on 10 December was evidently heated and the hall was the major discussion point with this information coming from multiple sources.

In regard to the letter sent by TBRA being edited in such a way that destroyed the impact and relevance of it, this is incorrect. All letters received are treated fairly and equally. Some letters are edited for length, to avoid defamation or repetition, or simply because there is limited space. Also, the newspaper does not use honorifics and this was the reason for “Cr” not being used.

The letter writer has had many letters published over the years and to say that the criticism ofKapi-Mana News was removed is disproved when the first paragraph of the published letter criticisedKapi-Mana News and its coverage of the Council meeting.

The editor stated that when the complaint was received the reporter, on behalf of the newspaper, wrote to the complainant and followed this up with a telephone call. The reason being that the reporter had a long standing relationship with the complainant.

The editor stated that the newspaper deals with all complainants fairly, impartially and courteously.

The Decision

Discussion

The article covered a long running dispute between the Council who want to demolish the Marines Hall and groups who oppose demolition, and covered a Council meeting where the recommendation for demolition was discussed.

The article contained information from the Council concerning costs to date and noted that supporters of fully repairing the hall, including Porirua Little Theatre, filled the public gallery and made their feelings known during the public speaking time.

The article was balanced and contained views from both sides of the debate and Principle 1 is not breached in this regard.

The reporter advises he made contact with relevant people to check information used was accurate and at no stage in the article does it state that the reporter was present at the meeting.

Newspapers do publish articles on issues where a reporter has not been present. The important aspect of this is that any information used is checked for accuracy. As this report shows there are risks involved in this approach.

In relation to accuracy the article quoted Mr Ebbett as saying TBRA was likely to appeal to the Environment Court.Mr Ebbett strongly contests this saying that no one could decide on an appeal to the Environment Court until the Council had actually granted itself a resource consent for demolition and any such consent would be against the heritage protection of its own District Plan.

The other inaccuracy related to the stated position of one of the councillors present.

Mr Ebbett sought to address these issues “in the interim” by publication of a letter to the editor. This the newspaper did.

The inaccuracies could have been dealt with in this way, or by correction or clarification.It was at Mr Ebbett’s request that a published letter to the editor was used and the Press Council finds this was sufficient to remedy the inaccuracies in the story. Principle 12 Corrections has not been breached.

Letters to the editor are published at the discretion of the newspaper concerned. The reasons given for editing of some letters received are standard for all newspapers. The style used by a newspaper regarding honorifics is the prerogative of a newspaper and not the domain of the Press Council.

Editing and style used by the newspaper in letters to the editor do not fall under Principle 12 which deals with a newspaper publishing a correction where facts have been proven wrong.

The complaint was not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.