GREGOR WHITE AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2733

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2018

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Conflict of Interest
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Stuff published an article online on October 92018 from Rob Stock on KiwiSaver fees scrutiny following annual fees hitting $447 million in the last year.

The Complaint

Gregor White complains that Stuff breached a number of Media Council principles:

  • Principle 1 – Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
  • Principle 4 – Comment and Fact
  • Principle 10 – Conflict of Interest

He argues that the headline Kiwisaver fee scrutiny after $477 million paid in annual fees sets the tone for the article by focussing and perpetrating a view that the KiwiSaver fees were unreasonable.The article gives the view that clients are being grossly overcharged when the FMA itself in the article does not make that claim.That is the fees were not excessive.

The quoting of Sam Stubbs in a number of paragraphs shows that the article was a product placement for Mr Stubbs’ business, Simplicity KiwiSaver Scheme.The only “claims” made for excessive fees is from a provider whose business model is predicated on a low fees structure.The FMA requires fees to be reasonable for active KiwiSaver accounts but Simplicity is not an active fund manager. Taken together, these elements breach the principles mentioned above.

The Response

Geoff Collett, Editor in Chief – Editorial Verticals for Stuff responded that the article was a “straightforward news item” and the complainant’s interpretation of it was not reasonable or accurate.Stuff canvassed a range of opinions and perspectives on KiwiSaver fund fees.The issue itself is of interest to the readership as it has been for a number of bodies including the FMA, Consumer NZ and the Minister of Consumer Affairs.

In an email Mr Collett provided the complainant with an assurance that there was no promotion or payment received for the news item.Stuff would disclose if any commercial interest was involved with editorial content.

The Decision

The Council acknowledges the point made by the complainant in a counter response that his third claim around Principle 10 “probably doesn’t hold.” Mr White’s complaint does not focus on accuracy of facts on the article itself so we focus on balance.

The Council agrees with Stuff that there was a wide range of opinion / views expressed in the article. However, the focus of three paragraphs on quotes from Simplicity KiwiSaver’s Founder / CEO whose model is predicated on low fees does raise the issue of whether Mr Stubb’s views at the start of the article were out of balance with the remainder of the article. Moreover, the Council notes that the largest four KiwiSaver providers via the largest banks were also not interviewed.

Whilst the start of the article did create an impression of imbalance, the readers would have seen balance later in the article with the comments from the FMA, Consumer and the Minister.

The complaint is not upheld.

Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay and Tracy Watkins.