C.HOOPER AGAINST THE NORTHERN ADVOCATE

Case Number: 597

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 1995

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Northern Advocate

The New Zealand Press Council has rejected a complaint made by Mr Colin Hooper against the Northern Advocate. The complaint concerned the newspaper's coverage during the run-up to the local body elections in Whangarei.

In a letter of 1 October, Mr Hooper complained to the paper about limited coverage of the elections and in particular about lack of coverage given to candidates not standing for the Progress Team. He claimed that no statement or letter of his had been published and that no letters from independent candidates had appeared. He also accused the paper of showing bias in an article on 30 September on the retirement of Cr Yovich, asserting the story could only be seen as a device to influence voters in favour of the Progress Team.

In response the editor expressed surprise and anger denying that preference had been given to any candidate or group. He said that numerous letters from independent candidates had appeared and further that a letter from Mr Hooper had been published as the lead letter. He defended the article on Cr Yovich as simply a profile of a man retiring from office. He emphatically denied that the paper had a collective viewpoint on the election and stated that he personally supported no team.

Mr Hooper replied on 17 October and withdrew his complaints about coverage. He persisted though in his criticism of the profile claiming it should have appeared after the election.

With a substantial part of the complaint disposed of only this article remains a point of contention. The Press Council considered it a typical retirement piece timed at the appropriate moment for its greatest news impact. It was essentially an extended interview with Cr Yovich and it included favourable comment about recent council financial performance because the councillor was responsible for significant improvements. The article also reported on some adverse comment being made on other aspects of council performance. The article was signed which allows for a greater degree of informality and comment than usual in an unsigned article. There was no evidence at all, Council thought, that the paper or its management had attempted to influence voters in any particular direction. The complaint was therefore rejected.