A BRADLEY AGAINST GREYMOUTH EVENING STAR

Case Number: 710

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 1998

Verdict: Upheld in Part

Publication: Greymouth Evening Star

The New Zealand Press Council has partially upheld a complaint against the
Greymouth Evening Star by Mrs Ann Bradley, of Ahura Valley, Hokitika. Mrs
Bradley’s husband, Francis Bradley, was the plaintiff in a court case in Greymouth which centred on the ownership of a tumbler wheel, part of the old Kaniere gold dredge.

At issue was the way in which the Greymouth Evening Star reported Judge David Sanders’ decision in favour of the first defendant, Mr Alan Birchfield of Birchfield Minerals Ltd.

Mrs Bradley said she believed the report of the judgment published on 17 June was inaccurate -- she cited examples -- and that it was biased in favour of Mr Birchfield. The article had also used quotations from the judgment that were incomplete and gave readers the impression her husband was a fool with a failing memory, she said.

The editor defended the newspaper’s report. He acknowledged that quotes from the judge’s decision did not indicate that some parts had been omitted. He offered Mrs Bradley a correction, and to publish a fuller report of the judge’s comments when space permitted, an offer she declined.

The editor also said that since the judge had found in Mr Birchfield’s favour, the paper felt it had to include Judge Sanders’ comments to indicate to readers why he had come to that view.

In subsequent correspondence, Mrs Bradley accepted part of the editor’s defence, but remained of the view that the article did not give a balanced account of the judge’s decision. The way it had been worded in parts, she said, put the sympathy of readers with the defendants.

The Press Council found that it could not sustain a complaint of bias against the newspaper. It said Judge Sanders had made a decision that went against Mr Bradley and so the weight of the newspaper’s report not unnaturally leant in that direction.

However, it also found that the report complained of had been deficient in parts, and to that extent, upheld the complaint. It found that having had those deficiencies drawn to his attention, the editor should have corrected them IMMEDIATELY. It was simply good newspaper practice to fix significant errors as soon as possible.

The Council’s comments on the report’s deficiencies related to the use of quotes from the judge’s findings which omitted a qualification relating to the judge’s comments about Mr Bradley’s business acumen.

The Council said it accepted small newspapers had limited resources and had to use them as best they could. But editors of small newspapers in small communities had to accept that in return this put a real onus on them to take great care in reporting issues fairly and accurately.