MICHAEL TALLEY AGAINST WESTPORT NEWS

Case Number: 803

Council Meeting: November 2000

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Westport News

Ruling Categories: Bias
Photographs
Accuracy

A complaint against the Westport News about its reportage of alleged odours emitted by Telley Fisheries' fishmeal factory in Westport, has not been upheld by the New Zealand Press Council.

Michael Talley of Talleys Fisheries had complained the coverage by the Westport News of the issue was unfair, untrue and biased, breaching principle one of the Press Council's Statement of Principles. As well as his complaint about the overall coverage by the paper, Mr Talley also complained about two specific photographs run in separate editions.

The first photo was of Les Warren, brother of the editor of the Westport News Colin Warren, wearing a face mask outside the fishmeal factory. Mr Talley said the photograph was staged and the factory did not smell. The second photograph was of a sign Stinkport erected at the entrance to Westport. Mr Talley claimed two witnesses saw the paper's reporter put up the sign before photographing it. He complained it was a breach of Principle 11, which states editors should not publish photographs or images that had been manipulated, without informing readers of the fact.

In response, the editor Mr Colin Warren denied either photograph was staged. He said Les Warren had been wearing the mask for some days before being photographed. As for the photograph of the sign, the reporter had been telephoned and told the sign has been erected. When she got there the sign has partially collapsed in the wind. All she did was straighten it before taking the photograph.

Mr Warren also defended the paper's overall coverage, saying the paper was simply responding to complaints about the smells from the factory from numerous Westport residents, particularly those living near the factory.

He said the background to the complaint was that the factory had received a consent from the West Coast Regional Council in November 1998, subject to 69 conditions. Talleys had given assurances about smell and effluent discharges. Mr Warren said since July this year when the factory opened the West Coast Regional Council had received 178 complaints relating to smell and 11 relating to discharge of water.

He said the Westport News has sought to get comment from Talleys but the company refused. He has also offered to meet with Michael Talley and the manager of the fishmeal factory, but they had not taken up that offer.

Mr Talley was not satisfied with Mr Warren's response to the Council and continued to focus almost exclusively on the fact that the editor's brother had been included in one of the articles on the factory. Mr Talley claimed the editor had a family interest in Les Warren's house and had wanted the land on which the factory stood zoned residential to boost the value of the Warren house.

Colin Warren said he had no interest in his brother's house and that Mr Talley had only one goal in mind and that was to stop the media doing its duty of reporting on a matter of widespread concern to the community.

The Press Council rejected all three parts to the complaint. In regard to the complaints about the use of the photographs the Council found there was no evidence to back suggestions they had been staged or manipulated. Both had been legitimate news photographs relating to an issue of public concern.

The general complaint that the Westport News' reportage had been unfair, untrue and biased, was also rejected by the Council. It was clear from the material provided that there were widespread concerns from a large number of residents about the alleged smell coming from the factory. This was backed up by comments from the West Coast Regional Council officers who responded to the complaints of residents.

It was unfortunate that Talleys refused to respond to inquiries made by the newspaper. The company's refusal to talk made the newspaper's job more difficult, but to its credit, the paper approached a wide variety of sources to ensure its reportage was fair and balanced. As well a number of letters, some supporting Talleys' position, were published by the paper.

The complaint was not upheld