REAL MANAGEMENT AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 806

Council Meeting: November 2000

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Bias
Accuracy

REAL Management - representing a group of real estate agents and lawyers (REAL) - complained to the New Zealand Press council about a bylined article published in the New Zealand Herald in late June. The article, one in a regular series called Rudman's City by Herald journalist Brian Rudman, was headed Real Dilemma For Selling Agents. It dealt with a new practice in Auckland, and elsewhere, of lawyers joining forces with real estate agents to sell, and provide accompanying legal services for, property in Auckland.

The complaint was not upheld.

Warwick Brown, chief executive of REAL Management Ltd, objected to the Rudman article because, he said, it alleged that lawyers were acting illegally and unethically. He also implied that Mr Rudman was biased and said he'd made errors of fact.

A complaint to the Herald's editor had gone unanswered, he said. Mr Brown then complained to the Press Council, saying the allegations misrepresented and misled potential clients of the business.

Mr Brown was particularly concerned to explain that lawyers would not share in real estate commissions from the sale of property. On the matter of bias, he implied that because Real Management was to publish its own newspaper to advertise listed property and this would compete with the Weekend Herald's real estate supplement, this might have been a factor in Rudman's choice of subject.

In response, editor Stephen Davis defended his columnist's right to a view and to publicly raise questions that others had asked about the enterprise. He said Mr Brown was resorting to semantics - "it is legalese at its most obscure." He also dismissed as ludicrous the implication that the Herald published an article because Real Management would become an advertising competitor

The Press Council is inclined to agree with Mr Davis' comments about semantics. It confirmed its view that columnists have broad latitude in commenting on matters of public interest and commended the Herald for being prepared to examine this particular issue.

It observed that a consortium of real estate agents and lawyers set up to provide combined services in return for a fee was legitimately a matter of public interest and, therefore, a proper matter for a daily newspaper to investigate and comment upon.

At the same time, the Press Council repeated its recent finding that columnists should make their comments based on fact and that where information was later proven to be wrong, should take the earliest opportunity to correct it. However, the Council could find no errors of fact as alleged by Mr Brown.

At the same time, the Council found that Mr Brown was entitled to have his say about the Rudman article and after his original email of complaint (if it in fact reached the editor) should have been encouraged by the newspaper to write a letter to the editor setting out his concerns for publication. The complaint might not have reached the Press Council had both parties followed this common and usually effective course of putting conflicting views in the public arena.
The complaint is not upheld.

Miss Audrey Young, a member of the Press Council and employed by the New Zealand Herald in the parliamentary press gallery was not present at the meeting when the Council considered the complaint. Another member of the Council Mr Terry Snow who disclosed a long-standing friendship with Mr Rudman, also absented himself from the meeting.