IAN LITTLE AGAINST WANGANUI CHRONICLE

Case Number: 897

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2002

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Wanganui Chronicle

Ruling Categories: Accuracy

A Wanganui man, Mr Ian Little, is upset that his local newspaper, the Wanganui Chronicle, published a spoof front-page on April Fool’s Day, April 1 this year.

He has complained to the New Zealand Press Council that the page was misleading and should not have been published.

The Chronicle’s front-page story, part of a four-page wraparound, was headed Touch Of Blarney Wings Its Way to Ohakea. Page one carried a second article headlined Oh Boy, Look What’s Happening To Our Airport, and on page two, were another three stories in similar vein, one announcing that the city’s new velodrome would have a roof after all, made by an international condom company.

Mr Little objected to what he called the “false front page”, saying it was “very misleading and should not be published by a reputable newspaper”.

Chronicle editor John Maslin said that it was clearly stated along the bottom of the front page of the four-page wraparound on the April 1 that articles in the supplement were fictitious, though the advertisements should be treated as genuine. The wraparound, he said, covered a genuine edition of the Chronicle.

Copies of the April Fool’s Day newspaper provided to the Press Council showed the warning referred to by Mr Maslin along the foot of the fictitious Page 1. It read, Warning: articles in this supplement are fictitious and are intended for readers who enjoy a good laugh. Advertisements should be treated as genuine.

The paper’s real front page followed the familiar style of the Chronicle, and announced the death of the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth.

The Press Council declined to uphold Mr Little’s complaint. It said that there was nothing unethical in what the Chronicle had done, and that the trick it had played on readers was not only well flagged to the newspaper’s readership but was also a common practice among some branches of the news media.

It observed that editors indulging in such pranks had always to weigh up the risk of confusing readers as to what, and what was not, genuine, against their publication’s preparedness to share a joke. Editors were well aware that their publications relied on public credibility and would make editorial judgments about spoofs against that knowledge, the Council said.

Accordingly, the complaint is not upheld.