DAME KERRY PRENDERGAST AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 3342

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2022

Decision: Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
Corrections

Ruling Categories: Defamation/Damaging To Reputation

Overview

  1. Dame Kerry Prendergast complains about three related articles published on 2 July, 8 August and 25 August 2022 in the Dominion Post and on Stuff. She alleges breaches of Media Council Principles (1) Accuracy, fairness, and balance, (4) Comment and fact, (6) Headlines and captions and (12) Corrections, saying that these breaches and the consequential aspersions in the articles have impacted on her reputation.  The complaint is upheld on Principle (6) Headlines and captions.

The Article

  1. The first of the three articles headed Calls for Film Commission board chairperson to quit amid stalled conflict probe discusses a review into a conflict of interest for the CEO of the NZ Film Commission. Dame Kerry, the complainant, is the chairperson of the board of the NZ Film Commission.

  2. Criticism was made by members of the film industry for the length of time the review was taking. Some of the criticism was particularly aimed at the chair and board for their lack of appropriate governance and the rising cost of the review due to delays.

  3. Dame Kerry said that the review “was making good progress” but had been delayed due to Covid-19. Dame Kerry made further comment that “proper and fulsome processes take time and that the report was due to be delivered by the end of June” but again stating that “due to the impact of Covid-19 there has been some delay”.

  4. On this matter, MP Damien Smith said at a select committee meeting to the Minister of Arts responsible for the Film Commission, Minister Sepuloni, “The chair either isn’t managing this properly or should resign.” Ms Sepuloni responded that “The Board is currently managing that particular situation” and it was not for her to manage or get involved in.

  5.  In response to concerns from the industry that board members’ and the chair’s terms appeared to be lapsing without any notification of new or roll-over appointments, the Minister said that Dame Kerry has overseen a “challenging and unprecedented time for the film sector”. The Minister said she was grateful for Dame Kerry’s ongoing service and would be making announcements about any new appointments to this board shortly.

  6. The second article, headed Film Commission CEO steps down amid stalled conflict of interest review was published on 8 August. This article outlines the issues leading to the Film Commission’s conflict of interest review concerning the CEO’s involvement in a public funded television project and his resignation. The article states “the review was stalled several months, prompting calls for the chairperson of the commission’s board, Dame Kerry Prendergast, to resign.”

  7. The last article published on 25 August is titled Film Commission overhaul policies after conflict of interest inquiry. This reports on the outcome of the Film Commission’s review into the previous CEO’s conflict of interests and the broader processes for disclosure and management of board members’ conflicts of interest. The report found that the board could have better managed the disclosure and management of the conflict during the CEO’s recruitment and that better documentation processes were required in the management of conflicts of interest at the Commission.

  8. The Screen Production and Development Association, representing the film industry, and Dame Kerry accepted the findings of the report. The board outlined a number of actions to be taken in response to the report.

  9. In the same article it was stated that “In July, Arts Minister Carmel Sepuloni decided not to renew Film Commission board chairperson Kerry Prendergast for a further term, after calls were made for her to resign.”

The Complaint

  1. Dame Kerry complains that the Dominion Post is misleading when it suggests that she was not reappointed as Chair of the Film Commission for a third term as a response to the calls for her resignation. It was reported that “Minister Carmel Sepuloni decided not to renew Film Commission chairperson Kerry Prendergast for a further term, after calls were made for her to resign.” The complainant says that this takes two unrelated events and extrapolates those to make an incorrect assumption that the call/s for her resignation caused the Minister not to reappoint her. Dame Kerry says that this is wrongly reported as fact when there is no evidence of such cause and effect, contravening principles (1) and (4).

  2. She said that the Dominion Post showed imbalance by omitting to publish a media statement made by Minister Sepuloni on 6 July stating her gratitude to Dame Kerry “particularly when the film and screen industry across the world witnessed some of its greatest struggle due to Covid-19.” Dame Kerry said it would be unusual for a chair to be appointed for a third term and so close to an election.

  3. Dame Kerry complains that over the matter of the conflict-of-interest review there was only one call for her resignation mentioned in the article, yet in the heading of the first article and repeated within the other two articles the word calls was used e.g., “Calls for … board chairperson to quit….”, “prompting calls for the chairperson…to resign,” and “after calls were made for her to resign.” The complainant says that this contravenes principle (6) on the basis that the headline suggests there was more than one call for her resignation which is incorrect as only one call is identified in the body of the article. 

  4. The third point in this complaint is on receipt of the initial complaint from Dame Kerry, the Dominion Post did not correct the errors she had identified.

  5. Dame Kerry says that omissions and inaccuracies in the articles have been hurtful and have impacted on her reputation.

The Response

  1. The editor of the Dominion Post stands by their report that Dame Kerry was not renewed as chair for a further term, after calls were made for her to resign. They say that this was factually correct, and wording simply laid out the public timeline of events. They say that they do not know why Minister Sepuloni made the decision not to reappoint.

  2. In the first of the three articles, published on 2 July, the Dominion Post quoted Minister Sepuloni as saying Prendergast, whose served as board chairperson since July 2016, had overseen a ‘challenging and unprecedented time for the film sector” and she was grateful for her ongoing service. The Dominion Post did not report the statement made by the Minister on 6 July as it did not have another Film Commission story for more than a month later. Further, it has not been the practice of the Dominion Post to report Ministers’ statements of gratitude for any previous exiting Commission Chairs. The paper refutes the complainant’s claim that it would be unusual for a chair to be renewed for a third term, citing the previous two chairs were both renewed twice.

  3. On the question of how many calls were made for Dame Kerry’s resignation over the conflict-of-interest matter, the Dominion Post says there were “two and a half calls”, with one being from MP Damien Smith as reported. The Dominion Post says that John Barnett, who was quoted in the first article, said to the journalist in a follow up interview that he thought Dame Kerry should resign. The half call refers to a statement made to the Dominion Post by Irene Gardiner from the Screen Production and Development Association (SPADA) saying that she might not be the right person to call for Prendergast’s resignation but did voice serious concerns about the governance of the commission.

The Discussion

  1. Dame Kerry alleges imbalance in the articles for omitting statements of support from Minister Sepuloni.

  2. While a statement made by Minister Sepuloni on 6 July has not been reported in the Dominion Post, the first article includes there is a similar quote from Minister Sepuloni supporting Dame Kerry’s work as the Chair of the Film Commission. Dame Kerry is quoted throughout all three articles.

  3. As to the argument made that the phrasing “Minister Carmel Sepuloni decided not to renew Kerry Prendergast for a further term, after calls were made for her to resign” suggests cause and effect, the Media Council disagrees. It is unknown what led to the Minister not reappointing Dame Kerry, but this did occur at a time following at least one call for her resignation. While the Media can understand Dame Kerry’s interpretation, we accept the Dominion Post’s position that this is fact and we consider that there has been fair and balanced representation of Dame Kerry and her work as chair throughout the articles. We find no breach of Principles (1) and (4)

  4. On the complaint that there was only one call for Dame Kerry’s resignation in the body of the report, the Dominion Post says that along with MP Damien Smith there were one and half other calls for Dame Kerry’s resignation. Neither John Barrett’s call for her to resign or SPADA’s hint of a call were reported in the body of the article. It is particularly surprising that John Barnett’s call for Dame Kerry’s resignation was not included in the article alongside his other comments about her and the board’s poor management of the issue.

  5. Principle (6) states “Headlines, sub-headings and captions should accurately and fairly convey the substance or a key element of the report they are designed to cover”. The Council finds that there is a breach of Principle (6) on the basis that the headline does not accurately convey a key element of the report.

  6. The Council agrees that there is an inaccuracy in using the term calls in the heading when only one call is referred to in the body of the article. When calling for someone’s resignation there is a substantial difference between one call and calls, which could be construed as many.

  7. Principle (12) addresses the quality of a correction. In this case no correction was made so there are no grounds to consider this part of the complaint.

    Decision

  8. The complaint is upheld on Principle (6) Headlines and captions.

  9. The complaint is not upheld on Principles (1) Accuracy, fairness, and balance, (4) Comment and fact and (12) Corrections.

  10. The Council members considering the complaint were Raynor Asher (Chair), Ben France-Hudson, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, Marie Shroff, Reina Vaai, Alison Thom, Richard Pamatatau, Hank Schouten, Rosemary Barraclough, Scott Inglis, and Jonathan Mackenzie.

Complaints

Lodge a new Complaint.

MAKE A COMPLAINT MAKE A COMPLAINT

Rulings

Search for previous Rulings.

SEARCH FOR RULINGS SEARCH FOR RULINGS
New Zealand Media Council

© 2023 New Zealand Media Council.
Website development by Fueldesign.

Reach Us

NZ Media Council
79 boulcott street
Wellington, 6011
New Zealand

PO Box 10 879,
Wellington, 6143