ROTORUA LAKES COUNCIL AGAINST ROTORUA REVIEW

Case Number: 2655

Council Meeting: MARCH 2018

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Rotorua Review

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Misleading
Politicians

Overview

1. The Rotorua Lakes Council complained that a report in the Rotorua Review on a protest against the outsourcing of the management of its Aquatic Centre was inaccurate and misleading. The complaint was not upheld.

The Complaint

2. The report began, “Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick has hit back at claims protesters were locked out of the year’s last council meeting as “completely untrue”.” The complaint, by the council’s chief executive, Craig Tiriana, considered that sentence to be inaccurate because the mayor was referring to a claim the council had gone into committee because of the protest, not the claim that the protesters were locked out of the meeting. In his view these were two different things.

3. He says the report created a misapprehension that the mayor had lied and caused her honesty and integrity to be questioned in social media channels.

4. He also complained about a word in a subsequent passage of the report which stated, “The protesters were met by security staff and closed doors at the council, and told the meeting had moved into confidential. However, both Chadwick and Deputy Mayor Dave Donaldson denied the move was a deliberate snub to the protesters.” Mr Tiriana contended the word “move” at the second reference suggested some sort of plan or tactic. He said, “Saying ‘the move into confidential’ would have been accurate but in our opinion, simply saying ‘the move’ suggests something untoward may have occurred.”

The Response

5. The News Director of the Rotorua Review, Julie Kaio, considered its story fair and accurate and not misleading. She conceded the mayor in her statement to the reporter had said, “The inference last week’s council meeting went into confidential because of the hikoi is completely untrue.” Julie Kaio considered the mayor was “reported accurately but different wording", which fairly reflected the mayor's statement that the inference was completely untrue.

6. She maintained it was clear the mayor was referring to the meeting, not the physical lock out because the word “meeting” was in the sentence. The mayor’s meaning was made clear later in the report which gave her full quote: “The inference that last week’s council meeting went into confidential because of the hikoi is completely untrue.”

7. On the use of the word “move” at second reference, Ms Kaio did not believe it carried an underhand implication. The sentence had clearly indicated it was a “move into confidential”.

The Decision

8. The alleged inaccuracy here was a very slight one. The council meeting went in confidential session before the protest hikoi arrived. The hikoi was barred from entry to the building. The mayor had denied the move into confidential session was prompted by the hikoi. This was reported as a denial that the protesters were locked out of the meeting. Since the protesters had been locked out of the meeting, the report exposed the mayor to unfair criticism for her denial of a plain fact.

9. But it was hard to see an important distinction between a meeting going into committee and protesters being locked out of it. One was a consequence of the other. If the wording of the mayor’s denial in the first paragraph caused readers any confusion it was clarified a few paragraphs into the report when the mayor was directly quoted. Clearly she was referring to the move into confidential session when she said it was “completely untrue” the move was in response to the hikoi.

10. Quite likely, that denial would have faced disbelief and criticism on social media in any case. The Press Council did not consider the paraphrasing of the mayor’s statement in the first paragraph amounted to a significant inaccuracy sufficiently important to uphold the complaint.

11. Nor was the Press Council persuaded that the word “move” carried unfair implications when it clearly referred to the “move into committee” stated in the same sentence. The complaint was not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.