SARAH FERGUSON AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2652

Council Meeting: MARCH 2018

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Children and Young People
Comment and Fact
Confidentiality
Conflict of Interest
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
Privacy
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Overview

[1] Sarah Ferguson complains[1] that aNew Zealand Herald article dated November 23, 2017 breaches the following NZ Press Council principles:

  • Principle 1: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
  • Principle 2: Privacy
  • Principle 3: Children and Young People
  • Principle 4: Comment and Fact
  • Principle 8: Confidentiality
  • Principle 9: Subterfuge
  • Principle 10: Conflicts of Interest

The complaint is upheld under Principle 1.

[2] There were two articles released on the same day that discuss an incident that occurred in 2015 which resulted in the death of a man, who is the son of the complainant.

[3] The first article titled ‘Auckland business owner sentenced for fuel tank explosion which killed worker’ was released in the business section of theNZ Herald in the morning.The second, a lengthy exclusive feature (16 minutes to read) titled ‘Death in the workplace - ‘I can’t put it right, money can’t put it right’ was released in the business section of theNZ Herald online in the evening.

[4] The first article focused predominantly on sentencing of Ronald Salter in relation to the charges laid after the incident that led to the death of Jamey Lee Bowring on September 15, 2015.The second article went into depth about the background of the business owner, Ronald Salter and his company, Salter’s Cartage Limited, as well as an overview of the events leading up to Jamey Bowring’s death and what occurred thereafter.




[1] Ms Ferguson has also mentioned the Waikato Times ran an article in which there was the sharing of information from the private restorative justice meeting.Executive Director, Mary Major, has informed Ms Ferguson that for the purposes of this complaint the focus will be on the NZ Herald and that Ms Ferguson would need to deal with Waikato Times in a separate complaint and that there would need to be consideration of when the Waikato Times article was published in line with the Press Council’s complaint procedure.

The Complaint

[5] The complaint is based on the New Zealand Herald article titled ‘Exclusive: Death in the workplace – ‘I can’t put it right, money can’t put it right’.

[6] Ms Ferguson has complained the article breaches many of the NZ Press Council principles.The first of which is Principle one, “This article was written without fairness or fact.There was no balance in this story whatsoever.The article was based on what Ron Salter had stated, it was his opinion only… Prior to running this story I have had no contact fromNZ Herald to ascertain the true facts.Making this article completely one sided.”

Accuracy – “Ronald Salter has been able to state his untrue opinion – re facts of that day and the lead up to the day.This was untrue and very vindictive.”

Fairness – “There was no contact from the NZ Herald to any other involved parties i.e. Jamey’s family, the police, WorkSafe, Trevor Ackers, Raceworks creating a very unbalanced, non-factual publication.Allowing the man convicted for Jamey’s death to further victimise the family”.Ms Ferguson has said she was cautioned about speaking with the media, “At the time of the incident I was asked by the prosecutors (police and WorkSafe) to not make any statements to the media due to the amount of charges laid against Ronald Salter and Salter Cartage…I have been waiting so very long for the truth to be spoken and some justice for Jamey.”

In a final comment Ms Ferguson has added, “After 2 years of hearing only Ron Salter’s side of the story in all of the press articles. It's disappointing the only portion with Jamey’s families view was taken from their victim impact statements read in court. As I previously stated we were advised by the police and WorkSafe not to speak to the media.... We waited desperately for the court hearings and sentencing to be over so we could finally speak so we could find some closure.”

Balance - “This story was extremely unbalanced and only had the opinion of Ronald Salter.Why was Ron Salter’s opinion the only one taken into account?”

[7] Ms Ferguson has complained that privacy has been breached.Information shared within aNZ Herald article about a scholarship being set up was derived from a conversation that took place in a restorative justice meeting, “Earlier on in the process prior to his sentencing, a story was also published byNZ Herald re: a scholarship Ronald Salter had set up against the family’s wishes at Huntly College.NZ Herald stated facts that were discussed in a private restorative justice meeting.The family was not contacted…for their opinion on the matter.”In a subsequent communication Ms Ferguson has added, “[Ronald Salter] was asked not to use Jamey’s name in a scholarship at Huntly College.The family was happy for the scholarship to proceed but didn’t want Jamey’s name associated with it. But he continued to do so and he even stated in theNZ Herald it was against the family wishes.”Ms Ferguson has also clarified that “Jamey never attended Huntly College, he moved there after the quakes.”

[8] In regards to Principle 3, Ms Ferguson has discussed the wider effect of Jamey Bowring’s death, “his younger brother and his mates who were very close to Jamey their whole lives were 18 and under... The media coverage backlash has been horrific for them. They now don't believe anything in the press ...”

[9] Ms Ferguson believes some of the information relayed by Ronald Salter is factually incorrect or untrue, “…the articles in theNZ Herald have further victimised Jamey and his family and friends.The articles have not given the public the true facts of that fateful day or the circumstances leading up to it.The article has not only further victimised Jamey but Trevor Ackers and Raceworks.The article paints the man sentenced for his death as a kiwi hero, I’m sure if you had all the facts this wouldn’t have been written.It wouldn’t have taken long to get the true facts of this extremely sensitive case from the family, police or WorkSafe.”

[10] Ms Ferguson questioned whether a PR company was hired by Ronald Salter and whether there was any payment for writing the article.

The Response

The Response

[11] NZ Herald planning editor, Chris Reed, explained to Ms Ferguson that there were “attempts to contact you via Facebook.”The journalist who wrote the article had attempted to contact Ms Ferguson by “obtaining an address and cross-checking with White Pages for a phone number, however, he was unable to find one.” The attempt to make contact via Facebook “was on November 16, a week before the story ran.”

[12] Mr Reed further added “the same checks were made in regards to Mr Ackers.Attempts were also made by searching online for mobile numbers.”

[13] In response to the comment by Ms Ferguson about the article being “completely one sided”, Mr Reed disagrees with this and refers to the statement Ms Ferguson read to the court emphasising specific passages that were read out.

[14] In relation to the question by Ms Ferguson “whether a PR company was hired by Ronald Salter”, Mr Reed advised “There was no PR company hired by Salter – or any other PR company – involved in this story.David Fisher (the author of the article) was aware that Salter had retained some kind of PR representative but had no dealings with them while planning and writing this story.”

[15] Mr Reed confirmed that Ronald Salter had not been paid for the article, “TheHerald has a hard and fast rule that it does not pay people to be part of news stories.”

[16] In relation to the comment about further victimisation, Mr Reed has expressed an uncertainty, he explained that “Information about their involvement was taken from evidence before the court hearing.I note the presiding judge said Raceworks did not train your son properly and convicted them of one offence.”

Additional responses to Ms Ferguson’s follow up email

[17] Senior newsroom editor, Oskar Alley has provided additional responses[2] to a subsequent email sent by Ms Ferguson who was concerned that she hadn’t clearly stated all that she intended to share.

[18] In response to Ms Ferguson’s complaint that the article was “extremely unbalanced” Mr Alley has advised that after a number of attempts to make contact and then an initial call to Mr Ackers it was made clear that they did not want to hear from the journalist, “Subsequent attempts through an agent confirmed that.”

[19] Ms Ferguson has acknowledged that she was sent a Facebook message but as the journalist was not a friend on her Facebook account the message was automatically directed to the ‘Filtered requests’ folder in private messenger and therefore she did not see it. “I don’t believe this was an adequate attempt of contacting me.If he had looked up Raceworks in google it would have shown up my home phone and Trevor’s mobile details.”

[20] In a final response Ms Ferguson has discussed the lack of contact by NZ Herald, “TheHerald have stated that they attempted to contact the family and Raceworks but couldn't get their details.... Therefore, sending a message via Facebook (As my Facebook page is private their message went automatically into a spam file). I find this extraordinarily hard to believe as the day of the accident 15/09/2015 all of Jamey’s family and friends had to hide from the media and not take phone calls …. Multiple messages left on our voicemails – from all media networks includingNZ Herald, yet in this letter they advise they couldn't find our numbers anywhere?”


[2] Mr Alley has commented “I noteNZ Herald planning editor Chris Reed has previously provided a detailed response to Ms Ferguson’s initial complaint.”


[21] Mr Alley has suggested that the inclusion of the specific passages made by Ms Ferguson in her statement to the court provides “suitable balance”.

[22] In relation to accuracy, Mr Alley has stated “the article does not rely on Salter’s “untrue opinion”, though his recollection of the day is naturally included in the article.”Mr Alley has referred to WorkSafe’s agreed summary of facts which had been presented to the court as the source for the narrative, “WorkSafe was the prosecuting authority and the article relies extensively on the information it provided to the court.”

[23] In clarifying Ms Ferguson’s complaint that “There was no contact from theNZ Herald to any other involved parties” Mr Alley disagrees with this, “I note the reporter did speak to WorkSafe in preparation for the article.”

[24] Referring to the complaint by Ms Ferguson that “NZ Herald stated facts that were discussed in a private restorative justice meeting” Mr Alley disagrees this occurred, “At no stage has theHerald reported this information, and we are not partial to what happened at the meeting.”

[25] Ms Ferguson has alleged that Principle 3 was breached.Mr Alley does not agree on the basis of Jamey Bowring’s age when he passed away, “Jamey Lee Bowring was 24 at the time of the explosion. I submit this principle was not breached.”

[26] In relation to Principle 4 ‘comment and fact’ Mr Alley maintains that the narrative for the article was derived from the agreed statement of facts presented to the court, “As explained, the article relies on the statement of facts presented to the court by WorkSafe. In relation to Ron Salter’s opinion, suitable care is taken to attribute his opinions and beliefs to him.”

[27] Mr Alley states that confidentiality (Principle 8) has not been breached.And, that no information was obtained by dishonest means (Principle 9).

[28] As discussed earlier, Mr Alley denies any ‘conflict of interest’, “Ms Ferguson has been advised that the reporter had no contact with any public relations person employed by Salter. The reporter had no conflict of any kind in the preparation of this article.”

The Decision

The Decision

[29] The NZ Press Council Principle 1 states that “publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance…In articles of controversy or disagreement, a fair voice must be given to the opposition view.”

In this matter there was no ‘fair voice’ offered to the family of Jamey Lee Bowring.It is acknowledged that there was an attempt to contact Ms Ferguson, the deceased’s mother, but there was no follow up when she did not respond to the Facebook message.The Facebook message was sent one week before the article was published, so there was an opportunity to attempt to contact Ms Ferguson through other communication channels and while we acknowledge that there had been an attempt unfortunately the efforts did not extend far enough.By including comment from Jamey Bowring’s family this could have brought accuracy in relation to the points raised within the article, it also might have offered fairness in offering the family’s view and it might have provided balance in the different perspectives held by the wider parties who were affected by Jamey’s death.

Principle 1: Upheld.

[30] It would be difficult to uphold the alleged breach of privacy pertaining to content being shared from a restorative justice meeting.The difficulty lies in the confidential nature of the meeting itself and the agreement that the information shared within the meeting will not be discussed with others.The responsibility for any breach lies with the person discussing any content of the restorative justice meeting and not theNZ Herald.As Mr Alley correctly suggests they were not privy to the content of the discussion in the restorative justice meeting, this again raises the earlier point that had Ms Ferguson been contacted for comment this could have been picked up as she would have advised that the information came from the restorative justice meeting and that due to the confidential nature of such a meeting the information was not to be used.

Principle 2: Not upheld

[31] At the time of his death Jamey Lee Bowring was 24 years of age. We acknowledge that his death has had a wide-reaching effect on those much younger such as his brother, however, for the purposes of this complaint this principle has not been breached.

Principle 3: Not upheld

[32] The NZ Herald have stated that they drew the narrative for the article from the agreed statement of facts presented in court by WorkSafe.They have also explained that they have been cautious to attribute opinions of Ronald Salter to him.

Principle 4: Not Upheld.

[33] As the source for the article was known to Ms Ferguson et al there has been no breach of this principle.

Principle 8: Not upheld.

[34] The information captured within the article was not obtained by subterfuge, misrepresentation or dishonest means.Therefore, this principle has not been breached.

Principle 9: Not upheld.

[35] The NZ Herald categorically states that there was no PR company involved in the creation of the story nor was there any money paid for the article.The principle of ‘conflicts of interest’ therefore has not been breached.

Principle 10: Not upheld.

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

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.