ARTHUR KORONIADIS AGAINST THE DOMINION POST1. Arthur Koroniadis claims The Dominion Post failed to comply with Principles 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance), 5 (headlines and captions) and 11 (corrections) of the Press Council Statement of Principles in relation to stories published on July 16 and September 17, 2013. The July 16 story was headed “Developer’s loan default costs big”. The September 17 story was titled “CBD site well suited to smaller businesses”.
2. The Press Council does not uphold the complaints.
3. The July 16 story referred to a High Court judgment whereby Mr Koroniadis had been ordered to pay “more than $1m plus interest and costs” to the Bank of New Zealand after his company had defaulted in making loan payments. The company, now in receivership, had borrowed from BNZ with the debt being secured over a property at Edward Street, Wellington. The property had been put up for sale at the request of the company’s receiver. The Bank had pursued Mr Koroniadis, he having guaranteed the company’s borrowings.
4. The September 17 story focused on the property’s being up for sale and the fact that a deadline for offers was about to expire. This second story referred to the judgment against Mr Koroniadis.
5. Mr Koroniadis says that:-
(a) the July 16 story headline was wrong. It referred to him as a property “developer”. Mr Koroniadis claims he had never been a “developer”. Rather, he was “full time student”. This labelling, a negative one, discredited him “in the eyes of the public”. Mr Koroniadis says that a colleague approached the newspaper on the day the story ran asking for the reference to be corrected. Mr Koroniadis followed this aspect up himself on August 15. It was only then that The Dominion Post published a correction to the effect that Mr Koroniadis was not a property developer;
(b) the newspaper failed in both stories to refer to the fact another person was similarly liable as a guarantor for the debt subject of the judgment;
(c) the newspaper was in breach by failing to refer to the fact that the company in question was in liquidation as well as being in receivership. Mr Koroniadis says “potential buyers of the building and members of the public would have been misled” by this failure.
6. The Dominion Post responds, first, by saying it did correct the reference to Mr Koroniadis’ occupation once the error was pointed out. It says that while Mr Koroniadis’ colleague did contact the paper by phone on July 16 the discussion centred on other aspects of the article. The colleague did not refer to the headline as being misleading. Mr Koroniadis contacted the paper by email a month later to complain about the “developer” reference. The correction was published as soon as was practicable on August 31.
7. The newspaper says, secondly, that the Court judgment dated July 8, 2013 “concerned only Mr Koroniadis”. The Court unhesitatingly found that Mr Koroniadis as a guarantor was liable for the amount in question.
8. The newspaper denies Mr Koroniadis’ complaints over the absence of reference to the borrowing company’s liquidation.
9. The Press Council does not agree with Mr Koroniadis in relation to his complaint over the July16 headline. It was not he, but rather his colleague, who contacted the newspaper over the16 July story. The newspaper disputes Mr Koroniadis’ account of the discussion between the colleague and the paper. The newspaper says it only become aware of the inaccuracy claim when Mr Koroniadis himself approached the newspaper on August 15. As a result of staff absences the correction was not run until August 31.
10. The Council is not in a position to determine what was canvassed during this conversation. The Council finds that the newspaper acted reasonably promptly when Mr Koroniadis himself pointed to the error. Even without the correction the Council does not accept Mr Koroniadis’ claim that the public would view the headline reference in the way he describes. Mr Koroniadis was closely associated with a commercial property owning company which had failed to meet its obligations to its lender. The title attributed to him in this situation was of no moment.
11. With regard to Mr Koroniadis’ second complaint the Council has read the Court’s judgment. The judgment focuses on Mr Koroniadis’ liability only. Judgment for the same debt had been entered earlier against the other guarantor. While the Court did not expressly say so it is clear the liability each guarantor had to the Bank was “joint and several” (meaning that each guarantor was liable for the whole debt and not just half or any other portion of it). The simple fact is that Mr Koroniadis was found to be liable to the Bank for an amount exceeding $1m. The fact a second person was liable for the same amount is, in the Council’s view, moot. The Council does not agree with Mr Koroniadis when he says that “reporting that a single person has been ordered to pay over $1m makes a more appealing news story than reporting that two people have been ordered to pay”.
12. The Council sees no merit in Mr Koroniadis’ claim that the stories were inaccurate because they failed to refer to the company as being in liquidation. Nothing would hang on this reference in the eyes of the newspaper’s readers. Either way the company was in formal administration following a default in its part.
13. The Council does not uphold the complaints.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.
Clive Lind took no part in the consideration of this complaint.