TRINETTE TAWSE AGAINST SUNDAY NEWS

Case Number: 2133

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2010

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Sunday News

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

The Press Council has not upheld a complaint by Trinette Tawse against the Sunday News.

Background
Ms Tawse was the subject of an article entitled “I’ve hired a billboard to protest about benefits”, published in Sunday News on 3 January 2010. Ms Tawse had approached the paper about her proposal to use the billboard to publicise issues that she had with the Ministry of Social Development over eight years, believing that they were denying her benefit money for a variety of reasons, with which she disagreed. The paper indicated that if they were to cover the story, it would need to be an exclusive.
Ms Tawse was not happy with the paper’s coverage of her story. She believed that the exclusivity deal meant that her story would be on page one, ‘full page’. In fact, it covered five columns across around a quarter of page 7. She had written to the editor of the Sunday News on 31 January to complain about incorrect reporting and to request that “you publish my story in full on the full front page, as per the original agreement, and without the erroneous slew of the existing story”. She further stated that she “Also will have editorial oversight of the correction, to ensure that your paper makes a responsible job of its reporting duties”. There is no record of a reply by the editor to Ms Tawse.

The Complaint
In a letter to the Press Council Ms Tawse complained that the story ‘defaulted in’ issues of accuracy, fairness and balance. Under accuracy and fairness, she claimed that it ‘misled and misinformed, used commission and omission’ and under balance, that it did not fairly cover the substance of her situation, ‘obstructing public interest in the information about WINZ policies and its implications, as provided in the correspondent’s information.’
She also complained against another paper and a radio station – the latter is the domain of the Broadcasting Standards Authority, and the other complaint was dealt with separately to this one.
The executive director of the Council contacted Ms Tawse asking for more specific details of her concerns about the article, as the complaint’s grounds were insufficiently specific, but no further information was received.

The Newspaper’s Response
The deputy editor responded that they had given Ms Tawse no assurance that her story would be published on the front page; rather ‘in the front pages’ and this had been done. He stated that the story was ‘accurate, fair and balanced; did not mislead or misinform, and was of a reasonable length given the subject matter’. He stated that the article had covered the substance of the matter, namely Ms Tawse’s long-term unhappiness with the Ministry of Social Development and WINZ.
Ms Tawse replied reiterating in a general way the comments that she had made in her intial letter. She still maintained that if the paper had gone through the extensive material she had provided, they would see that they had committed errors and omissions, and had been inaccurate in some of their claims.
She continued to maintain that the paper had assured her of front page status for the article. She asserted that ‘the “eat and run” approach to reporting was totally irresponsible and unprofessional. It lacked ethics and integrity.’

Discussion
It was obvious, both from the paper’s article and Ms Tawse’s material, that Ms Tawse felt very hard done by through the way that MSD and WINZ had dealt with her benefit claims. That is a separate issue; the issue for the Press Council in this case was whether the paper misrepresented her situation based on the material she had provided to them, and whether the article was unfair and unbalanced.
The issue of placement was immaterial to this complaint as it did not pertain to issues of fairness, balance or accuracy that Ms Tawse cited as her grounds for complaint.
The paper should have replied to Ms Tawse’s initial letter of concern; there was no indication that they had done so. If they had replied, the situation might have been resolved without recourse to the Press Council.
However, considering the grounds for the complaint and the material provided by Ms Tawse to substantiate her complaint, the Council does not believe that the paper had been remiss on any of the grounds cited.

Conclusion
The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Ruth Buddicom, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.