Q REWI AGAINST HAWKE'S BAY TODAY

Case Number: 960

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2003

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Hawkes Bay Today

Ruling Categories: Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Privacy
Accuracy

Former Te Whatuiapiti Trust nurse Q. Rewi complained to the New Zealand Press Council about the behaviour of Hawke's Bay Today editor Louis Pierard and one of his reporters in dealing with her over a story that appeared in the paper on July 26, 2003. The essence of Mrs Rewi's complaint about the story, in which she was interviewed – seeking anonymity - about her concerns over the way the trust was run, was that it contained what she said were major inaccuracies and that the newspaper would not withdraw the story from its weekend edition.

The Press Council upholds the complaint.

Although Mrs Rewi outlined nine inaccuracies, there were four that concerned her most: 1) that the article incorrectly said she was illegally and unjustifiably dismissed when she was suspended; 2) that she had received three written warnings when she received just one; 3) that she said other nurses had resigned when she actually said other staff; and 4) an unpublished comment attributed to her that an unregistered nurse had given injections.
Mrs Rewi rang the paper in the evening before publication, spoke to the reporter and said the faxed copy of the story she was sent had too many inaccuracies in it and she wanted more time to go over it. She then said she did not want the article published.

In his response to the Press Council, Mr Pierard rejected the complaint, quoting a reporter as saying Mrs Rewi had a surprise change of heart over the story.
Mr Pierard said there had been no way of verifying at that time whether her dismissal was unjustified or illegal, and said two clarifications were written to address the first three of her concerns. The fourth point was not published in the final version of the story.
Mr Pierard also suggested Mrs Rewi's request to withdraw the story was based on an allegiance to the Dominion Post, which was also publishing the story on July 26.

A correction, which ran at the bottom of another story about the trust on July 28, clarified that Mrs Rewi had been suspended and not dismissed.
In a further letter to the Press Council, Mr Pierard said that on the evening before publication, Mrs Rewi would not tell the reporter what the inaccuracies in the story were, and said that to hold the story would have meant it would not have made the weekend edition.
He also confirmed that the second correction, which would have clarified that Mrs Rewi received just one written warning and that she had not said other nurses had resigned, but other staff, was never run in the paper.

There is a dispute between the parties over the circumstances of the interview and subsequent conversations about it. Without reporter's notes or tapes of the conversations it is impossible to determine whose account is accurate.
However, it is clear Mrs Rewi's warning that the story contained inaccuracies was not acted on properly and that the newspaper put its need to get a good story on its front page before the principles of good journalism.
The reporter knew before the story ran that some of the facts were in dispute, and although Mrs Rewi may have been less than forthcoming about what they were, it was the duty of the newspaper to ensure its facts were correct.
The story was the front page lead when it ran but the correction Mr Pierard promised to address the circumstances of Mrs Rewi's departure from the trust appeared as a footnote to another, minor, story three days later. By Mr Pierard's own admissions, the second correction was never run.
The Press Council's Statement of Principles says newspapers should be guided at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance. It is clear that in this case, the newspaper made a decision to publish a story, which it knew could be inaccurate.
The Statement of Principles also says that where incorrect material has been published, a correction should be run and given fair prominence. This was not the case here.

The complaint is upheld.