The New Zealand Press Council has upheld a complaint by Central Regional Health Authority against the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Phil Edgington, Chief Executive Officer of Central Regional Health Authority, complained that an article which appeared on 16 May did not report relevant comments made to a reporter, Ms Sue McCabe by a RHA spokesperson.

In the article, information received by the paper “that the Central RHA has pulled the plug on funding for a free inter-city bus service when the regional hospital is established,” was published. It was also reported that “the appropriate Authority spokesperson would not comment.”

Mr Edgington complained that the article disregarded a telephone conversation Ms McCabe had with Regional Health Authority Communications Adviser Ms Leigh Parker. In this conversation Ms Parker denied the claim and explained that no further comment was appropriate, as negotiations were continuing with Health Care Hawkes Bay on the issue.

Ms McCabe rejected Ms Parker’s assertion that Ms Parker denied the claim that funding had been withdrawn. Through her editor, Mr Ken Hawker (who unfortunately, died before resolution of this matter and was replaced by Mr Louis Pierard) the reporter asserted that Ms Parker declined to get further instructions from the Central RHA manager responsible for Health Care Hawkes Bay contracts, Mr Michael Quinlivan. Ms McCabe asserted that Ms Parker should have spoked to Mr Quinlivan after hearing that the Daily Telegraph had information that funding had been withdrawn.

The day the article was published Central Regional Health Authority issued a media release denying that it had “pulled the plug on funding for an inter-city bus service.” The release stated that the matter was under discussion, and that the Crown Health Enterprise was considering an offer made to it by the Central Regional Health Authority.

The following day an article was published in the Daily Telegraph reporting the media release. This did not contain an apology for incorrect information.

There is dispute over whether Ms Parker told Ms McCabe the claim that funding had been withdrawn was denied.

However it is agreed that Ms Parker did tell Ms McCabe that the matter was under negotiation. This implies that the matter had not yet been finalised. Had funding definitely been withdrawn the matter would have been finalised and negotiations would not have been taking place. Consequently whether Ms McCabe was told funding had not been withdrawn, she should have been alerted to the possibility that this information may have been inaccurate.

Then, if she were unable to obtain an entirely satisfactory answer from the Regional Health Authority it would have been prudent to have been more equivocal in her first article.

The correct information was published in the second article. However, the article did not acknowledge that the information published the previous day had been inaccurate. The Daily Telegraph has a clear responsibility to ensure to a high standard, that published information is accurate. Mistakes, however, occur and they should be clearly acknowledged and where possible any damage should be minimised.

That did not happen in this case and the Council upheld the complaint. However, it was of the opinion that an easier flow of information between Central Regional Health Authority and media may have avoided the situation.


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