ANGELA GRIFFIN AGAINST THE DOMINION

Case Number: 592

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 1995

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion

The New Zealand Press Council has dismissed a complaint by the chief executive of the Wellington City Council, Angela Griffin, about a report published by the Dominion on 28 July.

Headed "$500 million list of projects faces council," and accompanied by an extensive panel of graphic illustrations summarising various particular schemes, the front page article, continued inside the paper, surveyed various projects to which the council had potential or actual financial commitments.

Miss Griffin objected that the headline was factually incorrect and unsupported by the following text; that the graphics included several untrue statements and inaccuracies; that a correction carried the following day repeated untrue statements as fact; and that the council had not been asked for "comment" and that written comments from the Mayor had been ignored.

The chief executive officer said the headline figure of $500 million represented the sum of the total cost of each project (which included substantial private and regional government contributions), not the possible level of ratepayer commitment.

However, the Press Council found the heading was acceptable and neither "large and emotive" nor "potentially damaging," as the complainant had suggested by reference to another case.

It noted, moreover, her concession that the second paragraph of the report had registered the distinction between total costs and ratepayer commitments and that the difference had been identified throughout the rest of the article.

The subsequent correction, Press Councillors found, had been reasonable. Two of three errors which Miss Griffin had cited in the graphic display had been promptly admitted and explicitly corrected.

A third such alleged error seemed to have been covered by qualifications within the original article, if not also by civic approval for the commitment concerned, on the day of publication.

On yet another such issue, having declared that "should the (light rail) project proceed, however, the council contribution will be much greater than $3 million," the Dominion stood by its assertion. The editor had offered to provide supporting evidence which the Press Council felt unnecessary.

As to the complainant's concern that the city council had not been asked for comment, the Press Council upheld the editor's response that there had been no obligation to do so.

The article, said the editor, was a list of projects; it contained no opinion or argument and had been intended simply to indicate the amount of development proposed, under construction, just completed or being looked at long-term. As such, comment from the city council, Mayor or any other person or organisation had not been considered appropriate.