BILL VINCENT AGAINST THE PRESS

Case Number: 901

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2002

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Bias
Accuracy

Bill Vincent complained about an article in The Press on July 6 headed ''Battle of Nile Street looms.'' It concerned a residential property in Nelson which he jointly owned and which he planned to move and replace with three townhouses.
The author of the article, Nelson correspondent Peter Christian, was identified with a logo within the story comprising his name, photograph and a ''Nelson'' overline.
Above the article, a photograph of the house in question also appeared. The article said the 102-year-old house had a category II Historic Places Trust rating meaning it is of historical or cultural heritage significance. But it also had a group C rating under the Nelson City Council's district resource management plan, effectively meaning the owners did not need consent to remove or demolish it.
The article said the Historic Places Trust would try to save the house but the building's owners did not want to comment until after the resource consent hearing.
It also referred to the views of three people opposed to its removal and it ended: ''... objectors to the development can file submissions until July 19.''

Mr Vincent said the writer had not attempted to seek comment from him or his partner, therefore it was incorrect to state, as published ''as for the building's owners, neither wanted to comment until after the resource consent hearing.''
He also said he would not have commented anyway. He believed the deadline information for ''objectors'' reflected a strong bias and an intent to unduly influence the matter.

The Press responded to Mr Vincent's complaint by saying the article was a column, not a news story, and as such was an expression of personal opinion. It appeared as one of the regional round-ups that ran each Saturday. It would be impractical to label all columns with the word ''opinion'' the newspaper said.
The newspaper also insisted that the writer had sought to contact Mr Vincent for comment but had failed to locate him. The newspaper invited Mr Vincent to submit a letter for consideration and said Peter Christian would attempt to interview him for a follow-up on his column. Mr Vincent said he did not want to comment until after the hearings on the matter were over.

The Press Council accepts Mr Vincent's view that the piece, the selective views of others presented and the deadline given for objectors show a strong bias against Mr Vincent's plans. In the Council's statement of principles, No 6, on Comment and Fact reads: “Publications should, as far as possible, make proper distinctions between reporting of facts and conjecture, passing of opinions and comment.”
The Council accepts that the article in question falls within the category of opinion piece - and therefore it was not unreasonable to show a bias. The use of the photo byline is a common denoter of opinion or commentary. Had it displayed the word comment or opinion, there could have been absolutely no doubt, but the Council is nonetheless satisfied that the logo flagged it as an opinion piece.

Taking stances on controversial issues in such articles usually courts further controversy. That is the risk and sometimes the intention. It is not necessary to present all sides within the same article. The Council would encourage editors to ensure a balance of views on such issues is presented in some form in the newspaper.

In this case The Press has endeavoured to present another view through the letters column.

The complaint is not upheld.