ERIC MARSH AGAINST THE WANGANUI CHRONICLE

Case Number: 807

Council Meeting: December 2000

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Wanganui Chronicle

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Bias
Court Reporting

Mr Eric Marsh, a retired planner and architect, complained to the New Zealand Press Council about the report of an Environment Court hearing published in the Wanganui Chronicle on October 4, 2000. Mr Marsh had appealed to the court against the Wanganui District Council's decision granting resource consent for the redevelopment of Majestic Square in Wanganui.

The Press Council declined to uphold his complaint.

Also being heard were objectors to the formal stopping or closing of Maria Place adjacent to Majestic Square, and these were linked in the hearing, as the paper reported.

Mr Marsh complained that the article headed "Court hears opinions on square and Maria Pl" was biased and unbalanced when compared to the evidence he gave. His further claim of vindictiveness in the reporting goes too far and is not substantiated by the report itself.

While the article is the nub of Mr Marsh's complaint, he ranged in an ever-widening circle in his supporting submissions to the Press Council. He covered claims about letters to the editor, alleged harassment and pressure on him to withdraw his planning appeal -- also mentioned as being reported in the Wanganui Chronicle - previous of his reports and lengthy submissions, other newspaper coverage of the issue and even the performance of counsel at the hearings.

This is not helpful to direct consideration of the article in question, but does suggest a large and continuing history which lends weight to the paper's approach to Mr Marsh's submission to the Environment Court. The readers would know much of the background, especially as this was now at an appeal hearing level.

Mr Marsh is fair in acknowledging that he does not call into question the accuracy of the reported quoted excerpts in the paper, and in saying that the quantity or number of columns given over to his lengthy appeal was not his business. Yet almost in direct contradiction, he says his concern is about accuracy and that both sides of any point of argument should be fairly presented.

Given that Mr Marsh's court evidence was 11 pages of a detailed and sometimes convoluted presentation, his requirement for reporting on whatever points of argument arose was not possible.

In response to Mr Marsh's complaint., the editor explained that, given the length and detail of Mr Marsh's evidence, he did not believe he could justify several columns devoted to it. Space was a precious commodity in a daily paper of 16 to 20 pages. However, he had decided to devote as much space as practicable to the court's decision.

In the event, the reporter did a fair job in the 520-word story on October 4. Four objectors, including Mr Marsh, were mentioned by name and each received about the same coverage. Mr Marsh's lengthy submission was referred to, his first summary conclusion about Maria Place was reported, as were his reiterated claims about harassment and his accusation that the council had committed a gross administrative error in failing to resolve the road closure before its inclusion in the square's redevelopment.

The concession from counsel to the judge that a stage go-ahead may not have had a certificate of compliance because parking had not been formed, confirmed Mr Marsh's own submission on the car parking waiver.

Mr Marsh may have been aggrieved that his case was not represented as fully as he would have wished in the newspaper, but in the context of a limited court report and in the circumstances he seems to have had reasonable treatment from the Wanganui Chronicle.

The complaint is not upheld