WANGANUI CITY COLLEGE BOARD OF TRUSTEES VS WANGANUI MIDWEEK

Case Number: 781

Council Meeting: June 2000

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Wanganui Midweek

Ruling Categories: Children and Young People
Comment and Fact
Discrimination
Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy

A complaint by the Wanganui City College board of trustees to the New Zealand Press Council against an item published in Wanganui Midweek has not been upheld. The item, relating to pupils of the College was published on March 1 in a snippets column compiled by a retired reporter.

The item read : Donna said her daughter won't be going there. "I drive past the City College at lunchtime and the students, girls and boys, are standing out the front smoking. And if they're not smoking, you see them kissing and canoodling. Surely a teacher could wander about now and
then and put a stop to all this. It's a shocker. I don't know about Wanganui High School. Perhaps you just can't see the students doing the same thing, but I don't think so.''
The board chairperson, Mrs A Bunn, complained that the piece offended against several of the Press Council's statement of principles: the requirement for accuracy, fairness and balance; the requirement for particular consideration when reporting about children and young people; the
obligation to make distinctions between fact and opinion; and against the non-discrimination principle. She wondered whether the mother Donna is a true person.

Wanganui Midweek is a give-away newspaper and the editor of the Wanganui Chronicle, John Maslin has responsibility for it though he is not involved in its production. Mr Maslin says the column deals with issues in a light-hearted and sometimes flippant manner.

Both Mrs Bunn and the school principal, Brian Woolhouse, contacted Mr Maslin the day the item was published to express their concerns.

Mr Maslin believes the school's upset was exacerbated by the fact two of
its pupils had recently been killed in an accident and he acknowledged that the school's state of grieving should have been considered in the decision to publish.

The principal was offered a right a reply and a letter from him appeared the following week. It invited Donna to contact him and to visit the school one lunchtime to "walk around the grounds and meet our many polite, helpful and cheerful young citizens."

The editor says he has issued instructions that in future, comment must be sought from all parties in the interests of fairness and balance.

The council believes the editor acted properly in response to the school's complaints, giving it a right of reply when the matter was drawn to his attention and issuing instructions for future such items.

The council does not uphold the complaint.