Case Number: 886

Council Meeting: JUNE 2002

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Christchurch Mail

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of

The New Zealand Press Council upheld a complaint against the now defunct Christchurch Mail made by Yani Johanson a candidate in the 2001 Local Body Elections. He said they had issued a voting guide supplement in September 2001 without acknowledging that it was a section of the paper that included only candidates who had paid an advertising fee. The 12 page supplement was advertised on the front page of the Christchurch Mail under the banner, ‘Local Body Elections Voting Guide – the user-friendly guide to candidates’ – ‘Election Guide starts page 15’. Pages 15-26 included photos of candidates and their electioneering statements interspersed with editorial comment. On page 24 of the supplement, there was a photo with the heading – ‘Who will you vote for?’ with a smaller sub heading – ‘To help you make this decision please use this guide and make your vote count’.

Yani Johanson contended that there was a direct negative impact on the candidates who did not advertise and that voters were misled about who the candidates were in their wards.

The Christchurch Mail was a subsidiary of the Christchurch Press but is no longer in existence having been replaced by four community newspapers Christchurch Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western Mail.

In the absence of an editor to whom Yani Johanson could direct his complaint, The Press editor, Paul Thompson, did respond as he felt a residual obligation to answer Mr Johanson, although the editorial operation of the Christchurch Mail had been entirely separate from The Press. The Council appreciated this gesture of help. Paul Thompson agreed that the titles invited the assumption that all candidates were included, and that some of the advertisements looked like editorial material. However he felt that the Mail’s faults in presentation would have had minimal impact on the election result as there had been extensive coverage in other media.

In 1999, in case 732, (Glensor v Wainuiomata News) it was stated that ‘to cover local body election only by paid advertisement breaches the traditional ethic of journalism to maintain a separation between the editorial side of a newspaper publication and the business side’. In the case of the Christchurch Mail, the paid advertisements were alongside editorial comments but with no acknowledgement that only candidates who had paid an advertising fee received editorial coverage. While Paul Thompson believed that the Mail publication would have had minimal impact on election results, the Mail as a giveaway, had a circulation in excess of 100,000. It had also been distributed the day before voting papers were mailed out.

Mr Johanson’s complaint was upheld against the Christchurch Mail. The paper had published a voting supplement that was clearly portrayed as a voting guide but did not alert readers to the fact that it included paid advertisement material only, and that not all candidates were represented.