Case Number: 595

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 1995

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: North Shore Times Advertiser

The New Zealand Press Council has upheld a complaint that the North Shore Times- Advertiser was deficient in the way it reported a phone-in poll on the North Shore mayoral race.

Dr E.P.Aimer had complained that the poll organised by the Times-Advertiser, was not valid and that the newspaper had reported it with no warning of the lack of validity of the polling method used and the data it generated. He also drew attention to the use of the word "poll," which in this case was misleading in relation to its normal usage with reference to polls regularly reported by the media. Those polls were based on acceptable survey methods and the size and location of samples and margins of error were normally reported.

He pointed out properly constituted polls randomly selected respondents. In the case of the Times-Advertiser phone-in poll, respondents selected themselves.

After writing to the newspaper, Dr Aimer complained to the Press Council.

In defence the editor of the Times-Advertiser said the phone-in poll was valid, the method used was acceptable and he asked how a phone-in poll could have a margin of error. He also included a letter from Vision Net, the company which carried out the poll.

Vision Net managing director Murray McLaughlin said the Times-Advertiser had reported the poll results accurately but he acknowledged he could make no claims about the statistical significance of the responses or the validity of the result.

The Press Council found that phone-in polls were legitimate tools for newspapers, but in reporting them, or any other poll, newspapers had to take care to inform their readers about the validity of the poll. In this case the Times-Advertiser had fallen short of acceptable journalistic standards by failing to make clear to readers the poll had little validity.

The way the poll was reported indicated the results clearly reflected the feeling of all North Shore voters. The Council noted that all newspapers should report opinion polls with care.