Case Number: 868

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2002

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Columnists

The Water Pressure Group complained about a column by New Zealand Herald columnist Brian Rudman.

For the following reasons the complaint is not upheld.

In his October “Rudman’s City” piece, Mr Rudman discusses the long-standing differences between the water group and two Auckland City councillors, Penny Sefuiva and Bruce Hucker. Believing the councillors had betrayed election promises – by one voting against, and one abstaining from, an amendment that would have disbanded local authority trading enterprise Metrowater – the group had erected critical billboards on the property of one of their members. The councillors were accused of “lying” and people were urged not to vote for them.

Disagreeing with the protesters’ actions, Mr Rudman had written bluntly that their accusations were “wrong” and “defamatory”.

There is much more to the saga, including a court action by the group attempting to overturn the results of the Avondale-Roskill ward’s election. But the focus of the complaint to the Press Council is on Mr Rudman’s perceived inaccuracies and lack of balance. Under the signature of spokeswoman Penny Bright, the water group argues that the signs were not defamatory - or why had the councillors not taken legal action?

In response the Herald editor-in-chief Gavin Ellis gives an explanation for the councillors’ lack of action. He says they were reluctant to stifle free speech. He also says the councillors’ anti, and abstaining, votes in relation to the amendment had been “strategic”. He says Mr Rudman’s column reflected the facts of the matter.

The water group devotes a significant part of its complaint to arguing the rights and wrongs of the water issues and of the billboards. But neither are a matter for consideration by this Council. What the group fails to demonstrate, is the opinions aired in a robust column breach standards of accuracy, fairness and balance. It should be noted that the balance of the Herald’s news and feature sections have not been questioned.

Readers of Mr Rudman’s column would be very aware that they were being given opinion. It does not matter that some of that opinion was firm and disapproving of the water group’s stance. The group clearly disagrees with what Mr Rudman says. But that is not a ground for stopping him – or the Herald – from publishing the opinion.

The complaint is not upheld.