AIR NEW ZEALAND AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALDIntroduction
Air New Zealand (“Air NZ”) complained about two articles published on page 1 of The Weekend Herald on April 5, 2008. The principal article was headed “Air NZ plans $20 bag charge”. A side bar story was headed “UP IN THE AIR – IT’S A BIT STEEP FOR SOME”.
The principal article dealt with a plan by Air NZ to charge domestic travellers for a second bag. The side bar article dealt with passengers’ response to the proposed new baggage charges. It included a response from a cruise ship steward who was stranded at the Auckland airport because his five bags, totalling 40 kg, were too many “even now for his flight to Christchurch”.
The complaint is not upheld.
Air NZ not only complained about the articles and their captions but also the promotional material which preceded them on both television and radio. The Council does not have jurisdiction to consider complaints in respect of the promotional material on television and radio.
The complaint relating to the headlines falls with Principle 10 of the Council’s Statement of Principles, namely that the headlines did not accurately and fairly convey the substance of the report they are designed to cover. In respect of the principal headline, the specific complaint was that a charge of $20 would be made for a second bag and there was no reference to the existing free weight allowance of 20 kg being increased to 30 kg or that cabin bags did not count as a “second bag”. The stand first of this article which read “One is free, then you pay – airline unveils its answer to check-in queues and delays” was also said to be inaccurate and misleading. Air New Zealand complained that there was no indication or, at least, insufficient indication that the changes were proposals on which further planning and research was being undertaken.
The complaint in respect of the side bar article was that, when taken with a photograph of the cruise ship steward, there was an indication that the problem he was facing was related to the proposed changes. Thus, the photo and captioning inaccurately conveyed the substance of the article.
The complaint also alleged that both articles were unbalanced and unfair and were, therefore, in breach of the Council’s Principle 1, namely that publication should be guided by accuracy, fairness and balance.
The Newspaper’s Position
The Weekend Herald’s response was that the principal article was fair and balanced and traversed the range of initiatives proposed by Air NZ and contained seven paragraphs giving Air NZ’s explanation. The side bar article gave the reader’s reaction as it was.
The principal article resulted from an interview between a deputy editor of the Business Herald and an Air NZ general manager (the manager) before the article was published. It was only after the article was published that Air NZ issued a press release saying the plan was subject to customer research. The manager had previously indicated that he was confident the plan would be finalised within 2-3 weeks.
The nub of Air NZ’s complaint on the heading of the principal article and stand first was that the newspaper deliberately chose to sensationalise the effect of baggage changes that were under consideration. It was not correct that Air NZ was to charge $20 and, indeed, the article itself did not say so.
The article itself made it clear that the plan was to charge between $10 and $20 per bag. The headline indicated that the charges were $20 per bag. This was not accurate and did not fairly convey the plan of between $10 and $20 per bag, the airline argued.
The Council notes that readers of the headline, who did not go on to read the substance of the article could have been misinformed. But a newspaper cannot be expected to cram all detail into a headline or standfirst. Besides, under the new planned regime, as it was at the time of publication, some passengers would attract the $20 charge. A newspaper is entitled to draw on the most newsworthy aspect of a story for its headline. The Council does not uphold this complaint.
The first paragraph of the article made it clear that the charges were to be up to $20 for a second bag; the second paragraph noted between $10 and $20.
Subsequent paragraphs provided the detail of the policy.
The Council does not uphold the complaint in respect of the side bar article. In the main, the article was a response from air travellers to the “proposed new baggage charges”. While the statement from the cruise ship steward appears in that article and is slightly out of context, it is clearly a statement of how he sees the present position and not the proposed new charges.
In other respects, the Council does not find either article unfair or unbalanced. The principal article gave reasonable coverage to the views of Air New Zealand’s General Manager and his explanation of the plan.
The complaints are not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Beck, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind and Denis McLean.
John Gardner took no part in the consideration of this complaint.