ALLAN GOLDEN AGAINST THE DOMINION POSTAllan Golden complains to the Press Council about a Dominion Post opinion piece about Mighty River Power director Trevor Janes. The complaint is not upheld.
The column, published on 6 February 2013 in the newspaper and on the Stuff website under the name ‘Chalkie’, discussed the Financial Markets Authority’s new disclosure guidelines. It speculated about the likely disclosures that would be made in the Mighty River Power prospectus about Mr Janes’ career history as a director of the failed company Capital + Merchant Finance. Five directors of Capital + Merchant Finance had faced prosecution for fraud. Mr Janes did not.
Mr Golden puts forward two grounds for his complaint. He says the Dominion Post’s treatment of the subject matter – as a semi-humorous piece by ‘Chalkie’ – disguised the serious nature of the subject matter. It encouraged readers to write off the article as a bit of mischief.
He also complained that the column did not go far enough in detailing all the disclosures that would need to be made if Mighty River Power were to comply with Financial Markets Authority guidelines.
Neither did it discuss the role of Mighty River chairperson Joan Withers in Feltex, nor her role as CEO of Fairfax. He said Ms Withers’ role should be discussed in all articles concerning her or the companies she was involved with.
Mr Golden said the column breached Press Council Principle 1, relating to fairness, accuracy and balance, and Principle 9, relating to conflicts of interest.
The Newspaper’s Response
Fairfax BusinessDay managing editor Fiona Rotherham said it was hard to see how readers could take the column as a joke. “Chalkie’s occasional and brief use of flippancy is merely to help wash down some fairly dry subject matter.”
She said the focus on Mr Janes was topical. There was no intention of exploring “the cupboards of all Mighty River Power directors for skeletons”.
As to Mr Golden’s conflict of interest claim, Ms Rotherham said Ms Withers had no influence on anything written by the author of Chalkie directly or indirectly.
Mr Golden disagrees with the light approach taken by the Chalkie column to the serious issue of disclosures by company directors. He also believes the column was too narrow in its scope and should have included other directors and other ‘skeletons’.
Humour or a light touch has always been an effective and powerful tool for dealing with serious issues. In this case it was used to effect and did not breach Press Council Principle 1.
The Press Council finds no justification for assuming Ms Withers exercised any influence over the handling of this column and no evidence of any conflict of interest.
The Council does not uphold the complaint.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding and John Roughan.
Chris Darlow took no part in the consideration of this complaint.