SUE EVANS AGAINST THE PRESS

Case Number: 965

Council Meeting: MARCH 2004

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy

A complaint by Sue Evans of Christchurch against five items published in The Press between 25 July and 24 September 2003 has not been upheld.

Sue Evans claimed that the newspaper’s reporting of the eviction of a family had been inaccurate, misleading and unbalanced. Her strongest objection was to the 25 July statement that she had alerted the media to the impending eviction and had invited them to watch as she emptied the tenants’ possessions onto the street.

The eviction was illegal. When the tenants took their grievance to the Tenancy Tribunal a key element in the financial settlement made between the tenants and the landlord, a company owned by Sue Evans’s son-in-law, was the landlord’s acknowledgment that the family had been subjected to unjustified public ridicule. Sue Evans blamed this outcome for the landlord on The Press’s 25 July statement that she had alerted the media.

Sue Evans insisted that she “did not ring the media, only ZB.” She had visited a Mr Paterson, a contact given to her by the Canterbury Property Investors Association, and informed him of her intention to “evict a bad tenant the following day.” Mr Paterson had then contacted The Press, and Channels One, Two and Three. As a result, she had been rung by several media people the evening before the eviction, and the event itself had received extensive coverage. The Press’s report of the eviction included a photo of the tenants standing on the footpath surrounded by their possessions.

The editor responded to Sue Evans’s initial complaint by saying that her close association with the process of alerting the media justified the newspaper’s characterisation of her as a major participant in it. In his statement to the Press Council the editor emphasised that she had made direct contact with one media outlet, had sought contact with Mr Paterson, had done nothing to discourage the media interest generated by his activities, and had willingly made statements to The Press and other media at the scene of the incident and afterwards.

In regard to this aspect of the complaint the Press Council considers that the newspaper’s description of Sue Evans’s relationship to the media had sufficient substance behind it to make it justifiable. The complainant’s actions, especially her notifying her intentions to Mr Paterson, an advocate for landlords’ rights, led to the swirl of media interest in the eviction, even if, as she maintains, she did not personally “alert the media”- other than ZB.

There were several other elements to the complaint. For instance, Sue Evans said that she was identified as the landlord when she was only an agent; that the property concerned was put in the wrong suburb; and that some of the detailed reporting of the eviction incident and of the subsequent Tenancy Tribunal proceedings was inaccurate. There were errors in the newspaper’s handling of some subsidiary items but the Press Council does not think they were materially significant enough to require formal censure. They could have been dealt with by the complainant in the letter for publication that she was invited to submit. She refused this opportunity.

Sue Evans also complained about the rude and unprofessional treatment she had received from one of the newspaper’s staff. The editor rejected this accusation and vigorously defended the senior journalist. The Press Council has no way of determining whether there is any substance to this aspect of the complaint.

The complaint is not upheld.