ELIZABETH HYLAND AGAINST APNZ, NZHERALD ONLINE AND NZ HERALDBackground
Ms Hyland was involved in an employment matter with her employer, Air New Zealand, about an incident with a fellow flight attendant on a long distance flight between Auckland and San Francisco. Following an internal investigation, Ms Hyland took her case to the ERA (Employment Relations Authority) seeking redress.
The ERA had made a determination into Elizabeth Hyland’s claims against her employer. APNZ covered the determination and the story was uploaded onto nzherald online on 23 April 2013. The print version of the story appeared in the NZ Herald on 24 April 2013. The heading of the print version differed from the APNZ online version.
Elizabeth Hyland laid a complaint with NZ Herald Print Editor, Shayne Currie on 30 April. The story originated from APNZ and was therefore passed on by Mr Currie to Chris Reed, Editor, APNZ News Service. She regarded the story as not an accurate reflection of the ERA determination and the incident itself and requested the removal of the story from the online platform. Through a number of exchanges, Mr Reed disputed the complaints and offered to run a story if Ms Hyland were to appeal the ERA decision. Ms Hyland was not happy with the responses from Mr Reed and therefore has laid a complaint with the Press Council.
Ms Hyland’s complaint is that both versions of the story covering the ERA decision were, inter alia, “grossly unfair”, “imbalanced”, “selective”, and “wrongly portrayed”, particularly as she argued the ERA had “vindicated” her. There were three approaches from Ms Hyland to Mr Reed. In the second approach, in addition to earlier comments, Ms Hyland argues that the coverage was not reported in the right context and the words “angry” and “grabbed” were used in the coverage although they were not used in the determination.
She argues that the coverage breached Principle 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance) and Principle 2 (Privacy).
In later correspondence Ms Hyland offered the editor a letter, publication of which she saw as providing redress for the alleged misreporting.
The News Service’s Response
Chris Reed, Editor, APNZ Service responded that the coverage was not grossly unfair. That is, the coverage provided a fair, balanced and accurate report of the ERA determination, which is a public document. The responses from Mr Reed to Ms Hyland are detailed, but key points are that the coverage:
o did not criticise Ms Hyland. It reported the findings of the ERA;
o did not have an exaggerated use of adjectives or that the end result was dramatic. The coverage was “played very straight”;
o did not breach privacy as ERA hearings are public with findings available online.
In addition, Mr Reed notes that the APNZ journalist made “strenuous attempts” to speak with Ms Hyland. Her lawyer responded Ms Hyland was not prepared to comment nor would the lawyer make a comment on her behalf. The offer of a follow up story was made with no response received.
Mr Reed notes that the coverage does cover Ms Hyland’s “vindication” with criticism aimed at Air New Zealand, particularly with the heading of the print version. However, it is acknowledged that these points are clearer in the printed version of the coverage.
APNZ News Service rebuts Ms Hyland’s suggestions of breaching both principles, and saw no reason to publish the offered letter.
The Council has determined the report to be a fair and balanced coverage of the ERA determination.
ERA decisions are made publicly available online for all. They are a matter of public record. Principle 2 (Privacy) therefore was not breached.
Principle 1 on the other hand is on most occasions somewhat more challenging. The question is whether the publication (or online version of it) deliberately misled or misinformed readers by commission or omission. The provision of a “fair voice” to an opposing view is equally important, particularly on emotionally charged subject-matters such as employment disputes.
APNZ News Service contends that they made strenuous attempts to contact Ms Hyland including through her lawyer. We have no reason to doubt that this was the case. The offer was also made by the Service to do a follow up story to reaffirm ‘fair voice’.
Mr Reed had responded in detail to Ms Hyland on all points raised. From reading of the coverage and extensive exchanges between the Parties, the Council finds that there was no misleading of readers and therefore no breach of Principle 1.
We note that the NZ Herald had declined to publish a letter to the editor from Ms Hyland. The right to publish sits with the publication and it cannot be directed to do so by the Council. In any event the Council finds no issue that would have required remedying through publication of the letter.
The complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Clive Lind, and Stephen Stewart.
John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.