ALLAN GOLDEN AGAINST THE DOMINION POSTAllan Golden complained that a paragraph in a report published in The Dominion Post on November 15, 2005, was incorrect and that although he pointed out the error no correction has been published. He complains that in publishing an inaccurate report and failing to amend it the newspaper is in breach of two of the Council’s principles. The complaint is upheld.
In a report of a speech to a minerals conference in Auckland by Mr Kerry McDonald, chairman of OceanaGold and BNZ, The Dominion Post reported that New Zealand’s exports per capita were “just under half that of Australia and 2 ½ times less than the United States.”
On the same day Mr Golden e-mailed The Dominion Post saying that this figure was wrong. He concluded “It is time for you to start publishing letters on such issues.”
The letter was not published.
On November 24 Mr Golden received a note acknowledging receipt of his letter and replied immediately by e-mail, indicating he was not satisfied and suggesting the figure required “correction by one means or another.”
On November 30 the editor of the newspaper, Tim Pankhurst, wrote to Mr Golden saying they had no reason to believe the figure was incorrect. No one other than Mr Golden, including Mr McDonald, had suggested it was wrong.
At this stage it appears both Mr Golden and The Dominion Post were attributing the figure to Mr McDonald.
On December 8 Mr Golden complained to the Press Council and followed this with a letter on December 18 which pointed out that having seen Mr McDonald’s text, as published on the internet, it was clear the figure was derived by the newspaper incorrectly, their having overlooked the qualification that the relevant table referred to increases in exports per capita over the period 1960 to 1999, rather than an absolute per capita figure.
Mr Golden attributed this to “an attempt by The Dominion Post to get on board in decrying the country’s level of exporting.”
The newspaper’s response
In a letter to the Press Council two days later Mr Pankhurst acknowledged that Mr Golden was right, saying “the error was ours.” He explained that initially they had no reason to believe Mr McDonald had been misquoted and had had no request from him to correct the mistake.
A letter from Mr Golden, on another subject, was published in The Dominion Post a couple of days before his letter of November 24 and they generally had a general policy not to let their letters columns be hogged by any individuals.
Mr Pankhurst said he was now happy to publish Mr Golden’s letter.
On December 29 the Press Council wrote to Mr Golden putting forward the option of having his original letter published in The Dominion Post. However Mr Golden decided to pursue his complaint and suggested The Dominion Post’s error was intentional rather than a genuine mistake. He said the newspaper’s business section was “controlled by some business clique”. This was denied by the newspaper.
The Press Council upholds the complaint. The speech was inaccurately reported. Having ascertained the error it was incumbent on The Dominion Post to correct it. Mr Golden's beliefs as to the motive for the error are irrelevant. His original contention that the newspaper had a duty to check the facts presented by Mr McDonald, even if accurately reported, is not sustainable. No news organisation can submit all statements made in speeches to analysis in the course of a news report. Their obligation is to report the text as accurately as possible. It is for comment sections, letter writers or other contributors to challenge the content of such material if they feel it is warranted.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Lynn Scott, Aroha Puata, Penny Harding, Ruth Buddicom, Denis McLean, Terry Snow, Alan Samson, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, and John Gardner.