CHRISTIAN HERITAGE AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 708

Council Meeting: AUGUST 1998

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

A complaint by the Christian Heritage Party against the New Zealand Herald has been rejected by the Press Council.

The party had complained about the newspaper’s coverage of the party during and immediately after the Taranaki-King Country by-election. Christian Heritage accused the New Zealand Herald of bias saying its coverage had been insignificant compared to other parties in the by-election.

The party complained specifically about two articles both of which appeared after the by-election. On 5 May the newspaper had incorrectly referred to New Zealand First coming fifth in the by-election when Christian Heritage had been fifth ahead of NZ First.

In a later article on a nationwide poll, Christian Heritage was excluded from a graphic showing political parties’ relative support. NZ First, which recorded the same level of support as Christian Heritage at 1.7 per cent, was included in the graphic.

In response the editor of the New Zealand Herald said because there had been 20 parties contesting the by-election campaign, there were limit s to what the paper could do. The paper had been forced to make considered judgments on where its resources and space were best used. That meant concentrating on those parties with parliamentary representation or standing in the polls.

Christian Heritage did not meet either of those criteria and was, therefore, not targeted for coverage. Had it been involved in a newsworthy event it would have received coverage. The editor said at no time was the newspaper’s coverage influenced by bias for or against a particular party.

He acknowledged the story of 5 May had wrongly said NZ First, instead of Christian Heritage, had come fifth in the by-election but this had been an honest mistake.

Christian Heritage said it realised space was limited in the newspaper but more objective criteria needed to be used to determine the coverage parties got. There could be no excuse for saying NZ First came fifth in the by-election. Such a blatant mistake made Christian Heritage suspect bias.

The Press Council agreed that the New Zealand Herald’s criteria for determining coverage of political parties in the by-election had been fair and valid. It was logical that parties in Parliament would get substantially more coverage than Christian Heritage without parliamentary representation.

There was no evidence other media had given Christian Heritage more substantial coverage than had the New Zealand Herald. Apart from the mistake in the article on 5 May, which the newspaper had acknowledged as an honest error, there was nothing untoward about the New Zealand Herald’s coverage of Christian Heritage.

The complaint was not upheld.