Case Number: 829

Council Meeting: June 2001

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Napier Mail

Ruling Categories: Accuracy

The New Zealand Press Council has declined to uphold a complaint against the Napier Mail from a local resident, Wayne Forman.

Mr Forman was upset about an article published in the community newspaper on February 2, about the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. The article was closely based on an unsolicited account he had written setting out the experiences that day of two relatives and a friend, all of whom are deaf.

Mr Forman’s article, written in a personal, narrative style, had previously been submitted unsuccessfully to two other local papers. He says he was “rapt” that the Mail agreed to publish it.

But he also says that after reading the published version, he was disappointed that it wasn’t attributed to him as author, that it contained some factual errors, which he didn’t specify, and that it appeared to include a manufactured quote.

Mr Forman told the Press Council he’d tried and failed to meet Mail staff to discuss his concerns and while he’d spoken by phone to the paper’s owner, he felt the paper’s attitude was dismissive.

In correspondence with the council, owner Paul Wilson and former part-time editor Doug Banks explained that some errors, corrected on the draft by Mr Forman before publication, had inadvertently been left in the published version.

Mr Wilson said the article had been published with good intentions. It wasn’t the first time the editing process had gone wrong, and it wouldn’t be the last. He had apologised to Mr Forman for the incorrect version’s having been published.

For his part, Mr Banks acknowledged he’d altered the article to make it more readable. He said while Mr Forman had corrected errors of fact when provided with a draft, a computer glitch had meant that the uncorrected version was published. He didn’t believe the errors were material.

He also said he hadn’t known Mr Forman wanted to be named as the author.

Neither man referred to Mr Forman’s point about a manufactured quote.

After carefully reading the published article and written material on which both had been based, the council decided not to uphold Mr Forman’s complaint.

It said the article had been a fair reflection of the information provided to it and it could find no evidence that the paper had acted unethically.

While it could understand Mr Forman’s disappointment at not having been recognised as the original author, all newspapers had individual policies on naming the writer or the source of information.

At the same time, the council said it was its view that, where possible, it was desirable that the source of material be made known to readers.

The Council also found that on the question of an “invented” quote, information in the article seemed to have been modified at each stage of the gathering and editing process. This has resulted in some information having a rather uncertain origin.

Answering Mr Forman’s final concern – the paper’s reluctance to meet him and its slowness in providing him with an address for the Press Council – the Council noted that the complaint might well have been stopped had the paper met Mr Forman when he requested it.

The complaint was not upheld.