AJIT SAGOO AGAINST WAIKATO TIMES
Case Number: 2648
Council Meeting: JANUARY 2018
Publication: Waikato Times
Balance, Lack Of
- Ajit Sagoo claims a piece published in the Waikato Times on 18 November 2017 headed “Hamilton Woman breaks leg falling through rental” breaches principle 1 of the Council principles (accuracy, fairness and balance).
- The story reported on an accident suffered by a tenant of a property owned by the complainant and others when the kitchen floor collapsed. The tenant broke her leg and was hospitalised. The story detailed various problems the tenant said she had experienced with regard to the house, particularly the floor. The tenant claimed she had warned the complainant the floor was dangerous. The story referred to the tenant’s difficulties in having her children cared for while she was incapacitated and the trouble she faced in finding alternative accommodation. The story mentioned that the landlord had been aware of the flooring issues but said that these were of the tenant’s making.
- The article’s basic premise was that the house was substandard and the tenant and her family had suffered as a result. The story was accompanied by an image of the damaged floor albeit after having been repaired.
- The complainant says the story is unbalanced. It failed to fairly present his side of the story. He says the newspaper did not properly quote him, that the tenant had not brought the flooring defects to his attention and that she had not maintained the property as she should have.
- In particular, the complainant says the floor had been repaired before the tenancy commenced. The floor was in “new” condition. The complainant says there was obviously a plumbing issue under the floor of which he was unaware. This had caused the collapse. He had tried to inspect the house at various times before the tenant’s accident but had been thwarted.The tenant had been difficult. The complainant believes the reason she did not cooperate was because she was behind in her rent and that she was allowing dogs to run on the property in breach of the tenancy agreement. The complainant says the tenant “prevented” him from inspecting the house.
- The complainant claims the Waikato Times story portrays him as a “slum landlord” who cared nothing about the condition of the property or the tenant’s welfare. The complainant has supplied the Council with a string of text messages passing between the tenant and him between June – November 2017. None of the messages from the tenant referred to the condition of the kitchen floor or indeed any other property defects until after the accident.
- The complainant says he is reputable with a good track record in meeting tenants’ needs.
- The newspaper does not agree with the complainant. The newspaper says the complainant’s comments were published and that the story was fair. The paper refers to the complainant’s acknowledgment that there had been previous problems with the floor and that the floor had been repaired. The story referred to the complainant’s claim the property was “like a brand new house” when the tenancy began. The story mentioned that the complainant carried out “one” property inspection since the tenancy commenced and that he had fixed the toilet and other defects.
- The Council is concerned about one aspect of the complaint. Had the newspaper mentioned the complainant’s claim the floor had been actually been repaired before the tenancy commenced, that he claimed to have attempted at various times to inspect the house before the accident along with his belief the tenant had been unwilling to cooperate with him (or alert him to the condition of the floor) then the story would have been balanced. As it is the story is not. In making this point the Council cannot determine which of the complainant’s and the tenant’s accounts are correct. Rather the Council simply finds that the story was unbalanced given the newspaper’s failure to refer to these aspects.
- The complaint is upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.