Case Number: 2748

Council Meeting: JANUARY 2019

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Taranaki Daily News

Ruling Categories: Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication

The Complaint

Adam Horne, manager of Pouakai Zoo in Taranaki, has a number of concerns about theTaranaki Daily News’ handling and coverage of a story about Pouakai published on November 13, 2018, and a following story about zoos in general published on November 30, 2018. Pouakai Zoo was on the market for sale at the time of the publication of the two articles. The proposed sale was the trigger for the first article, which was neutral or positive in tone towards the zoo and its owners.

Mr Horne complains mainly about the second article, on zoos in general. This article reported negative and positive comments and arguments in general on standards of animal care in zoos, and the future of zoos, and also referred to Pouakai being on the market. Mr Horne believes this had implications reflecting adversely on Pouakai Zoo itself and its possible sale.

Mr Horne is also concerned about a number of other issues, including possible negative implications to be drawn from descriptions of the zoo-keeping experience and racial background of the owners of Pouakai; about volunteers at the zoo; and is unhappy with the headline of the second article “We are not all going to the zoo”. There was an initial inaccuracy in number of big cats reported to be held by the zoo. He also complains of confusion that occurred when two different reporters from theTaranaki Daily News (TDN) approached him separately about coverage of Pouakai and zoos in general.

The Response

Matt Rilkoff, editor of the Taranaki Daily News, responds by denying: any cultural bias, or implication that the zoo did not care for its animals; any intention to undermine the reputation of Pouakai Zoo or state that it is a bad zoo; and creating a bias in relation to zoo volunteers. The editor says the second article deals with current, general arguments for and against zoos and is fair opinion. The headline is a word play on a song of a similar title and represents the core elements of the arguments for and against zoos set out in the article.

Mr Rilkoff apologised to Mr Horne for the time taken to respond to his complaint. He acknowledged that the lead up to the article (involving twoTDN reporters contacting Mr Horne separately) created confusion and anxiety. He also acknowledges Mr Horne’s heightened sensitivity to articles about zoos because of the sale of Pouakai Zoo, apologises if this has caused anxiety to the complainant and says that was not the intention of TDN.

He notes that the reference to Pouakai Zoo being for sale is a normal practice, in using a local link point for a newspaper article on a broader topic. It does not make a value judgement on Pouakai as an institution.

The Discussion

Mr Horne’s complaints cover a wide range of issues. The inaccuracy in reporting number of big cats held was corrected promptly on line and a note added to the online version. The article on zoos in general covered arguments and quoted proponents both for and against the continuation of zoos and was fair and balanced comment in the context of the international debate on the issue. The mention of Pouakai Zoo was a reasonable local point of reference. It is perhaps unfortunate for Pouakai that theTDN chose to run a general article raising some negative issues about zoos just at the time the local zoo was for sale. It is understandable that Mr Horne would interpret this as potentially adverse to Pouakai Zoo’s interests. But the Council believes this editorial judgment is within the boundaries of freedom of expression.

More unfortunate was the “inexperience, inattention and miscommunication” betweenTDN staff (to quote the editor), which meant two reporters independently approached the complainant with two different news angles. One angle appeared detrimental to Pouakai’s reputation and subsequent contacts with the manager were unsatisfactory. The editor has earlier apologised to the complainant for that miscommunication. He submits that this was “innocent but regrettable”. We have some sympathy with Mr Horne on this issue and agree with the editor that it did not reflect good reporting standards. As the unfortunate confusion for Mr Horne was not in the end relevant to what was published, wider harm was limited, and the editor apologised.

At no point does the published TDN coverage of Pouakai directly criticise the zoo. The possible negative implications for Pouakai Zoo of the broader article about the pros and cons of zoos are, in the Council’s view, somewhat remote.

The complaint is therefore not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown,

Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay, Tracy Watkins and Tim Watkin.


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