STUART R LOWERY AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 975

Council Meeting: MAY 2004

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy

Stuart R Lowery has complained that a New Zealand Herald article of 26 February 2004, headlined “Gloves come off over u-turns”, lacked fairness and balance, misled and misinformed readers, and “lacked professionalism”.

For the following reasons the complaint is not upheld.

The article, by a Herald political reporter, is in the form of a “round-up” of the day’s proceedings in the House. Mr Lowery has concerns about one part of the piece only. In quoting Prime Minister Helen Clark’s response to a question from NZ First leader Winston Peters as to whether National leader Don Brash had ever raised Treaty of Waitangi or race issues before his Orewa speech, the reporter wrote: “‘I’ve been round politics a long time,’ said Helen Clark, clearly relishing the chance Mr Peters had thrown her. ‘And I can certainly remember no such previous interest by Dr Brash – never.’”

Highlighting that Dr Brash had in fact earlier referred to a “need to head off the dangerous drift to racial separatism in New Zealand” - in a speech after he became leader of the National Party – Mr Lowery says that the report, by reason of omission, is “sloppy journalism” and “irresponsible”. He says further that the omission of the detail contradicting Miss Clark could be construed as deliberately done in the interests of a “good story”.

Replying, Herald deputy editor David Hastings “utterly rejects” what he says are insinuations that his paper had a sinister motive in its coverage. “Not only is [Lowery] grossly overstating his case but to prove any case at all he must show that the report stated as a fact that Dr Brash had never said these things before. Of course it did no such thing, it merely quoted the Prime Minister as saying she could not remember.”

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint. The use of the word “such” allows a reasonable conclusion that the earlier speech, not subsequently followed through by Dr Brash in any sustained way before Orewa, does not contradict Miss Clark’s recollection. But even if the descriptor had not been used, the Herald’s cover would still have been justified. Should they have been concerned about the accuracy of the statement, opposing politicians were free to challenge Miss Clark. It would stretch the resources of a newspaper impossibly to be required to research the accuracy of every political opinion given, regardless of how minor.

In this case, the reporter was merely reporting the proceedings of the House and there is no evidence to suggest that his piece was anything but an accurate account.

Mr Jim Eagles took no part in the consideration of this complaint.