DAVID HENDERSON AGAINST SUNDAY STAR-TIMESIntroduction
The Press Council has partially upheld a complaint by David Henderson about an article entitled “Police probe sabotage claim” which appeared in the Sunday Star-Times on January 25, 2009.
The article stated that police were “investigating allegations that someone was sabotaging the sale of a residential development once owned by one of David Henderson’s companies near Queenstown”. It noted that nearly a dozen signs advertising the sale of exclusive properties at Anthem Estate, in the Gibbston Valley had been either vandalized or stolen. It stated that “Anthem Estate was being developed by Anthem Holdings, a company owned by the financially troubled developer, but it was placed in receivership on August 28 last year.” It said that the six properties that made up the estate were being sold off separately in a mortgagee sale.
The article also referred to a dispute between Mr Henderson and Grahame Thorne. It said that one of Henderson’s companies, Gibbston Water Services, owned the water supply to the property Thorne was renting. Thorne was quoted as saying, “We are quite prepared to pay for water but not at that price – its exorbitant and that Henderson was “holding me and my family to ransom over something as basic as water just isn’t on”.
Immediately after the quotes from Mr Thorne it was noted: “Henderson did not want to comment.”
Mr Henderson complained that there were several inaccuracies in the article; the statement “Police probe sabotage claim” was incorrect; and the statement “Henderson did not want to comment” was untrue.
The newspaper’s response was that the article was factually accurate in all material aspects and the matters with which Mr Henderson took issue were matters of semantics.
Initially, the editor accepted the reporter’s word that Mr Henderson had said he did not want to comment. When a transcript of the conversation between the reporter and Mr Henderson was produced, the response was that when the reporter “put the questions to him, he said it was ‘silly, silly stuff’ and ‘he did not want to be part of it’”.
The Council accepts that there were inaccuracies in the article but most of these were immaterial to the story. While there may not be an entity named “Anthem Estates”, the vineyard on the property was named “Anthem”. Mr Henderson’s companies did not own all of the development; only three of the blocks comprising the 20 block property were subject to mortgagee sales. These minor inaccuracies in themselves are not sufficient to uphold the complaint.
The complaint is also not upheld on the basis of the headline and the allegations of a police investigation. It is clear that there had been a complaint to the police which was subsequently discontinued. There had been a question of missing signs. There was a basis for the headline and the references to the police investigation.
The Council has viewed a transcript of the interview between Mr Henderson and the reporter and has heard the tape of the interview. The allegations attributed to Mr Thorne were not put to Mr Henderson. He did comment that “I am just not going to be part of it” in response to questions relating to the missing signs, during which it was acknowledged that some of the information had come from Mr Thorne. The water supply question was not put to Mr Henderson and he was not asked to comment on it. The article was inaccurate and unfair in this respect.
The article also lacked balance. It gave Mr Thorne’s view on the water supply issue without seeking Mr Henderson’s views for balance. Those views should have been sought and published.
The complaint is partially upheld on the grounds that
The Sunday Star-Times misled its readers by advising that Mr Henderson did not want to comment on a matter which had not been put to him;
Part of it lacked balance.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Kate Coughlan, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Alan Samson and Lynn Scott.