GEORGE CANT AGAINST THE SUNDAY NEWS

Case Number: 647

Council Meeting: APRIL 1997

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Sunday News

The New Zealand Press Council has upheld a complaint against the Sunday News after one of its journalists posed as a consultant to get information about the sale of Victor Furlan’s house in South Auckland.

The Council described the complaint as one of the more serious breaches it had considered and said that there were no special circumstances that could justify the action the paper took.

In July last year Tania Furlan was murdered in her home and her six-week old baby Tiffany was abducted. Some months later her husband Victor, put their Howick home up for sale and listed it with Profile Realty. He told the real estate company he did not want journalists going through the home.

During early September a Sunday News reporter rang the real estate agent acting for Mr Furlan, said she was a consultant and wanted to look through the house. After talking to the woman the estate agent arranged to show her through the house on Friday, 6 September. During their inspection, the woman said she knew about its history, but that didn’t worry her. She said he husband had been transferred to Manukau and they were looking to sell their North Shore home.

Two days later an article appeared in the Sunday News written by the “consultant” who had inspected the house.

After making an initial verbal complaint to the editor of the Sunday News George Cant, sales manager of Profile Realty, complained in writing before complaining to the Press Council.

He complained about the subterfuge of the journalist, who had not revealed to the estate agent she was in fact a reporter, and described it as one of the shoddiest examples of journalism he had encountered.

In response, Sunday News editor Sue Chetwin said there was public interest in doing a story on the sale of the Furlan house, but she acknowledged this was not an occasion when using such unorthodox methods could be justified. She viewed the matter with some concern and had taken it up with the staff concerned.




Ms Chetwin was surprised, however, at Mr Cant’s complaint because she believed he and his estate agent had been satisfied with her apology at the time.

But Mr Cant said, at no time had he accepted Ms Chetwin’s apology.

In the Council’s view the complaint was a serious breach of good journalistic practice.

In previous cases of a similar nature the Council has said that it subscribed to a provision of the code of the Journalists’ Union which recommended journalists “to reveal their identity as members of the Press when not to do so would be contrary to ethical standards.”

The Council takes the view that should be normal practice for journalists and that, only in exceptional cases involving the public interest or the exposure of crime, should a newspaper use subterfuge.

There are no exceptional circumstances in the Furlan case. Information about the sale was already on public record and could easily have been obtained. The complaint is upheld.