D.F.MCKAY AGAINST THE NORTH SHORE TIMES ADVERTISER

Case Number: 557

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 1994

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: North Shore Times Advertiser

The Press Council has dismissed a complaint against the North Shore Times Advertiser made by North Shore City Councillor D.F.McKay.

The complaint arose from a report in the newspaper's issue of July 29. On August 10 Cr McKay wrote to the editor complaining about the report of the city council's meeting. Cr McKay said the heading and the introductory paragraph stated he had been one of three councillors who had "stormed out" of the meeting.

The councillors had left the meeting after three separate incidents. Cr McKay disputed the use of the words "stormed out" to describe the manner of his withdrawal. He said he had calmly withdrawn after failing to receive an apology and retraction from another council member, Cr Easte, who had allegedly called him a liar.

Cr McKay also took exception to the way another councillor had been reported in the introductory paragraph which, Cr McKay said, made it appear he had been guilty of kindergarten childishness. The correct context of the comment had been recorded in the last paragraph of the story.

His third complaint was on the inadequacy of a reference in the story which said merely that the incident which had prompted him to walk out had been "later resolved."

This had not made clear that Cr Easte had withdrawn and retracted his allegation. He contended, that as printed, the reference could have been taken to mean that he had "been proven a liar."

The editor Ivan Dunn replied to Cr Dunn on August 13 after talking to the reporter and others who had been at the meeting. Mr Duinn said the article had contained some descriptive comment with which Cr McKay disagreed, but comments from other sources had suggested "these were not necessarily inappropriate." He said there was a dispute over issues of fact, but did not say what these were.

Mr Dunn declined Cr McKay's request for an apology and correction "on the paper's front page."

On September 9, Mr M.B.Forbes, Editor in Chief of Suburban Newspapers, Auckland, publishers of the North Shore Times Advertiser, reaffirmed to the Press Council the position taken by Mr Dunn. He quoted a local government consultant who had been at the meeting as saying Cr McKay's departure had been "somewhat theatrical" and the use of the words "stormed out" was a fair description. Mr Forbes also quoted another councillor, Cr McCulloch as saying Cr McKay had "stormed out of the meeting in high dudgeon."

Mr Forbes did concede that the brief reference to the issue which had prompted Cr McKay's walkout having been resolved later could have been construed to mean Cr McKay had been proven a liar. However he felt a reasonable reader could not have been led to that conclusion.

In his reply Cr McKay detailed the events of the meeting and repeated that he had left calmly. Four other councillors had also gone out with him in sympathy. He had gone home, but returned about an hour later when told Cr Easte was prepared to withdraw and apologise. He included letters from the mayor, the deputy mayor, the chief executive and two other councillors, each rejecting the suggestion he had stormed out of the meeting.

The Press Council said there was clear conflict in what was a subjective assessment of the manner of Cr McKay's departure.

However, taking into account the clearly confrontational nature of parts of the meeting, it seemed reasonable for the newspaper, in summarising what had happened, to have used the descriptive term "stormed out" to embrace the three incidents.

It may not have been totally accurate when applied to each individual case. but given the need for the newspaper to be brief, we think Cr McKay was not unfairly treated.

Neither do we believe it was necessary for the newspaper to spell out in any more detail than it had, that the issue which led to Cr McKay leaving had been resolved.

On the third point at issue, while we believe the introductory paragtraph could have been better written to make it clear the reference to kindergarten childishness was a general one, this point was made later.

For these reasons none of the grounds for complaint cited by Cr McKay can be sustained. The complaint is not upheld.