COMPLAINT AGAINST KAPI-MANA NEWS
Case Number: 2423
Council Meeting: MARCH 2015
Publication: Kapi-Mana News
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Balance, Lack Of
1. The complainant complains that an article published by the Kapi-Mana News was inaccurate, unfair, unbalanced and in breach of Principle 1 of the Press Council principles. She further complains that the apologies and correction offered by the publication are inadequate.
2. The Press Council upholds the complaint in part.
3. The complainant has requested anonymity in view of the history of the dispute that related to the subject of the article. The Press Council is satisfied that her request should be accepted. For the same reason, this determination includes only those facts which are essential to an understanding of the case.
4. In November 2014 the Kapi-Mana News published an article about the complainant’s brother and his dispute with her and other members of their family over the administration of their mother’s estate. There had been extensive litigation over a number of years and the brother, after the Court of Appeal had denied him leave to appeal to the Privy Council over an award of costs, had recently lodged an application for leave with the Privy Council itself.
5. In 2009 the same reporter had written, and the Kapi-Mana News had published, an article about the dispute’s earlier stages. At that time the complainant complained about imbalance and inaccuracies and she appears to have received an apology and an acknowledgement that there were inaccuracies.
6. After the publication of the 2014 article the complainant again contacted the Kapi-Mana News. There was considerable email correspondence and some conversations between her, the editor and other relevant Fairfax staff. As a result the editor acknowledged that the article was unbalanced, offered a verbal apology and agreed to submit a written apology if the complainant would accept it in settlement of her complaint.
7. The complainant responded by email, accepting the verbal apology but asking for a written apology from the reporter. The editor sent her a draft of such an apology, but the complainant found it unacceptable.
8. On December 9, 2014 the Kapi-Mana News published a correction and apology, addressed to the executors of the estate. It had previously been sent to the complainant, who found it inadequate, but there had been no response to her request for amendments.
9. The complainant initially complained that the family had not been consulted before the article was published and had therefore not had an opportunity to correct inaccuracies or to present their point of view. The lack of consultation was particularly disturbing as the reporter knew the history of the dispute and had been contacted with similar concerns over his 2009 article.
10. Points the complainant could have made if contacted were:
• The brother said he “had not seen a cent of his share of the estate” when he had been paid his share in full.
• The proposed appeal to the Privy Council was on a costs award of $2,000 and below the threshold for such appeals. It was not on the substantive dispute.
• She had obtained a protection order against her brother who had taken multiple malicious proceedings against her and her family. Among other things it prohibited him from using third parties to harass her.
11. She had accepted a verbal apology from Joseph Romanos, the editor of the Kapi-Mana News, but had requested a written apology from the reporter. A draft of such an apology was offered but was “utterly inadequate” and she did not accept it. After that Mr Romanos sent a “very impoverished” apology that he proposed to publish. He then refused to answer emails from her. The apology was published without notice to her and with no opportunity to correct it.
12. Mr Romanos said there was one inaccuracy in the article, but there were eleven, listed by the complainant in her comment on his response to the complaint.
13. The complainant also requested the removal of the online version of the article and all links to it.
The Kapi-Mana News response
14. Mr Romanos described his contact with the complainant immediately after the story was published:
• While she described the article as full of mistakes, it contained only one error of fact
• He agreed that no more stories about the dispute would be written without consulting her, though he did not agree that no more stories would be written .*
• The complainant accepted his verbal apology and said she did not want any apology or correction printed
The discussion was amicable and on its basis he understood the complaint to be resolved.
15. The complainant then sent him a succession of emails and also contacted other Fairfax staff. Among other things she asked for an apology from the reporter, asked to see the draft of the apology, demanded reparation from Fairfax, asked about deadlines for printing a retraction and sought the removal of the online version of the article.
16. Although he felt that an apology and retraction from the editor should have been sufficient, he asked the reporter to write a draft apology. He considered the draft to be sincere and thorough, but the complainant then wanted to have a correction and apology published and wanted to write it herself.
17. He then drafted and published a correction and apology. He did not contact the complainant again.
18. He is of the view that he and Fairfax made every possible effort to correct the situation.
• He offered a verbal apology, which the complainant accepted
• The Kapi-Mana News published a correction and apology as the complainant had eventually requested
• The reporter drafted a sincere apology
• The online version of the 2009 story was removed even though the complainant had not requested this.
19. In the view of the Press Council, and indeed as accepted by all parties to the complaint the article published by Kapi-Mana News was unbalanced and contained at least one inaccuracy. It was in breach of Press Council Principle 1. All parties are agreed that, particularly in view of his knowledge of the history, the reporter should have contacted the complainant and/or her family to obtain their side of the story and to check for accuracy. If he had done so, he would have been fully informed and in a position to write a more balanced article.
20. The extent of the inaccuracies is disputed – Mr Romanos considers there was only one, while the complainant has listed eleven. In a literal sense, there were no inaccuracies as the article seems to have reported accurately the words of the person who was the subject of the article. There is very little comment by the reporter and that comment is mostly undisputed. However there were at least one overt and one implicit inaccuracy in the reported words, both of which inaccuracies could easily have been detected by a little research into the background of the case and/or consultation with the complainant.
21. It was inaccurate for the brother to say he “had not seen a cent of his share of the estate” when there is clear evidence that he was paid his share. However, and more importantly, the implication of the article is that he was seeking leave to appeal to the Privy Council against a decision about the merits of his claim against the estate. In fact leave is sought to appeal only against a 2003 decision of the Court of Appeal awarding costs of $2,000 against him. In addition, the article does not mention that the Court of Appeal had already denied him leave to appeal to the Privy Council. These inaccuracies make the potential appeal appear much more substantial than it is and have not been corrected.
22. The remaining inaccuracies identified by the complainant are generally concerns about her brother’s views and the words he used to describe them rather than genuine inaccuracies on the part of the reporter. If he had consulted her before finalising the article, he could have taken those concerns into account, but they relate more to the matter of imbalance than to inaccuracy.
23. To summarise, this appears to have been a story based on a single source, whose reliability was questionable, when the reporter could easily have obtained balancing information from the complainant, the other executor(s) and/or from court documents. This is poor journalism and a clear breach of the obligations undertaken by the Kapi-Mana News in accepting the Press Council principles.
24. The remaining question is whether Mr Romanos took sufficient action to remedy the breach of Principle 1. When the complainant first contacted him, he offered an immediate apology, which she accepted. There is a dispute as to whether she requested a written apology from the reporter at that stage, but she certainly requested it later, and a draft apology was submitted to her for comment. She found it inadequate and insincere, but the only reason she gave at the time was that it did not mention that the reporter had been aware of the background to the litigation since his discussion with her in 2009.
25. At some point after the initial discussion, the complainant also requested the publication of a correction and apology. Mr Romanos agreed to the request and sent the complainant a draft of the proposed wording. It was a single paragraph correcting the statement that the brother had received nothing from the estate, saying the brother believed he was entitled to a larger share of the estate while the executors believed otherwise and ending with an apology to the executors of the estate for the embarrassment caused by the identified inaccuracy. He said it would be published in the next edition of the newspaper.
26. The complainant did not consider the draft adequate and (in an email of 4 December) supplied a draft of an acceptable format. It was very similar to the one drafted by Mr Romanos but omitted the reference to the brother’s belief that he was entitled to a larger share in the estate, added a reference to the subject matter of the proposed appeal to the Privy Council and ended with a more extensive apology.
27. Mr Romanos did not reply to this or to any subsequent emails from the complainant but on 9 December the Kapi-Mana News published the correction and apology as originally drafted by Mr Romanos.
28. The Press Council has some sympathy for Mr Romanos, who with some justification seems to have felt he was faced with ever-increasing demands for further action. It is unusual for a reporter (in addition to the editor) to offer an apology, and this is some indication of the seriousness with which the complaint was taken. To this extent the action taken by Mr Romanos was appropriate and sufficient. The draft apology from the reporter is not obviously insincere or inadequate, and the Press Council does not propose to consider this issue further.
29. The published correction and apology is another matter. The complainant clearly understood that Mr Romanos had referred his draft to her for comment, but he did not respond to her comments or indeed to any further communications from her. The Council does not suggest that the complainant’s draft should have been accepted but
• She should have been told that it was not acceptable and given a reason for the decision
• Mr Romanos should have confirmed his decision to publish and the proposed date of publication
• Although she did not specifically request this, it would have been appropriate to apologise for the failure to consult her (or the other executors) before publishing the article
• There should have been a correction of the implication that the proposed appeal was about the substance of the claim rather than about a minor award of costs, and there should have been a mention of the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of the application for leave to appeal to the Privy Council.
30. The complainant has requested that the online version of the article be taken down. The Press Council is of the view that the potential harm in retaining the article outweighs the need to keep the public record intact and agrees this would be appropriate. The Kapi-Mana News is required to remove the article. The Council recognises that there may be technical difficulties involved in removing or amending the digital facsimile of the article, but understands that it is possible to remove the page on which the article appears. If necessary, this should be done. In any event the Kapi-Mana News should ensure that there is a prominent link from the edition to this determination on the Press Council website.
Press Council members considering the complaint were Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, and Stephen Stewart.
Mark Stevens took no part in the consideration of this complaint.
*In a footnote to paragraph 14 the Council noted that in an email dated 3 December Mr Romanos said 'In particular, I have ... undertaken not to write any further stories on the matter."