JEAN O'CALLAGHAN AGAINST OTAGO DAILY TIMES

Case Number: 2723

Council Meeting: October 2018

Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Otago Daily Times

Ruling Categories: Advocacy
Bias
Columnists
Unfair Coverage

The Decision

Ruling by the New Zealand Media Council on the complaint by Jean O’Callaghan against the Otago Daily Times

Finding: No grounds to proceed

Date: October 2018

Jean O’Callaghan complained that the Passing Notes column published on 8 September, 2018 was very biased and encouraged people to make submissions in support of a proposed new “Olive Leaf” church development in Arrowtown’s historic zone.

She also believed it was unfair to publish it within five days of submissions closing.

Otago Daily Times editor Barry Stewart said Passing Notes was an opinion column and was on a page headed Opinion. In his view the paper had run sufficient news stories from interested parties and this had covered the main issues by the time of the week before submissions closed.

The columnist agreed the column was one-sided in arguing in favour of the application and that was the point of the opinion.

Mr Stewart noted there were strong objections to the column and its timing. An offer was extended to run an opinion piece from the NoLeaf Society on the following days, but this was declined. However, a statement from the society was published on the opinion page on the day submissions closed.

The Media Council notes the subject was a matter of public debate and balance had been provided with the paper’s coverage of the issues.

The column was clearly identified as opinion, and this was an exercise in freedom of expression. In a democratic society there is nothing to stop people expressing their views as they please.

Finding: No grounds to proceed