GEORGE LUSTY AGAINST WAIKATO TIMES / STUFF

Case Number: 2809

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2019

Verdict: Upheld in Part with Dissent

Publication: Waikato Times

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Headlines and Captions
Misleading
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1 .Mr Lusty complains about a story published on May 15, 16 and 22 on stuff.co.nz, Waikato Times (print edition) and Hamilton Press respectively. The stuff.co.nz version is headlinedEco group says Hamilton's conservation heroes are old, white and privileged.  

2. Mr Lusty says the story breaches:

a)Principle 1 – Accuracy, Fairness and Balance,

b)Principle 6 – Headlines and caption

 

c)Principle 9 - Subterfuge

 

 

The Story

 3. The online and print versions of the story began  A claim the bulk of conservation and restoration work rests on retired Pākehā has left the boss of the region's environmental funding agency dumbfounded.”

 4. Both stories referenced a report by environmentalist group Go Eco which was presented to a Hamilton City Council meeting. The report included a statement thatConservation and restoration work appears to depend on retired Pākehā who have the time and privilege.The statement is repeated in the story/stories.

5. The online story indirectly quoted Mr Lusty, by stating One of the presenters, George Lusty, said the volunteer figure is as high as 99 per cent. The print version is marginally different and statesOne of the presenters, George Lusty, said the figure is as high as 99 per cent.

 6. The stories also include a paragraph which paraphrases the report and states:In a report to Hamilton City Council this week, environmentalist group Go Eco said retired Pākehā are the heroes of conservation.

 

The Complaint

Principle 1 – Accuracy, fairness and balance:

7. Mr Lusty says the reference to “heroes” is inaccurate as the word is not contained in the report.

8. Mr Lusty notes the story says One of the presenters, George Lusty, says the volunteer figure is as high as 99 per cent. Mr Lusty complains that “in the context of the report, this refers only to the Pakeha members of voluntary gully restoration groups in Hamilton City”.

9. Mr Lusty says quoting the Waikato River Authority CEO – who said “I’m gobsmacked” implies that Mr Lusty’s comments were referring to the whole Waikato River catchment, rather than a part of Hamilton.

10. The story states Go Eco’s assertion, and other comments in its report to HCC, offended councillors and Mayor Andrew King who said it was awash with politicaland derogatory overtones that shouldn’t be accepted by council. Mr Lusty says this creates a contextual implication that the “other comments” have something to do with Mr Lusty. Mr Lusty says the mayor was referring to other parts of the report.

Principle 6 – Headlines and captions

11. Mr Lusty says the headline Eco group says Hamilton's conservation heroes are old, white and privileged is inaccurate. The Go Eco report refers to “retired pakeha”.

12. Mr Lusty says the caption under his photograph has an aggressive tone and refers to him as an eco warrior. The photo’s original caption had a completely different tone.

Principle 9 – Subterfuge

13. Re Mr Lusty says the reporter telephoned the GM of Ngati Haua Mihi trust and the CEO of the Waikato River Authority implying that Mr Lusty was referring to their restoration areas, even though the Go Eco report focussed on Hamilton City and Mr Lusty was referring to voluntary work in Hamilton City’s gullies.

14. Mr Lusty acknowledges he could have chosen his words better when speaking in support of the report, but says his words were in response to a question about the report and taken out of context, rather than focussing on main issues as recorded on YouTube. (He provides a URL in his complaint to the media council)

15. In his complaint to Stuff, Mr Lusty sought redress via a retraction and apology in print and online.

The Response

16. Wayne Timmo, chief news director, Waikato, responded for Stuff, referring the Media Council to his responses to Mr Lusty.

Principle 1- Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Principle 9 Subterfuge:

17. Mr Timmo said Mr Lusty’s comments were in response to a councillor’s question re conservation work and restoration appearing to depend on retired Pakeha.

18. Mr Timmo says the question was not put to Mr Lusty directly, but he answered, saying that while he didn’t write the report, he agreed with it. Mr Lusty then used an example about conservation work in Maungatautari in the Waipa district. The fact that Mr Lusty mentioned Waipa indicated that he was referring to wider projects. Mr Timmo noted that Mr Lusty introduced “the use of old white men by saying ‘therefore we, the old white men, in particular, and some old white women, we do 99 per cent of the work”.

19. The Stuff reporter then sought comment from WRA as they have a global view of conservation. Mr Timmo says the WRA have also funded work in a gully system where Mr Lusty volunteers.

20. The reporter also contacted Mr Lusty to clarify what he had said. Mr Lusty replied that was talking about volunteers only. There was no subterfuge at play and the attempt to clarify Mr Lusty’s point indicated the publication was not “out to misrepresent you”, Mr Timmo says.

Principle 6 – Headlines and captions

21. Mr Timmo said the term “hero” was not an unreasonable paraphrase and the term “eco warrior” was not an attempt to be derogatory. It was commonly used to describe people committed to preventing damage to the environment.

22. Mr Timmo asked that the council read his responses to Mr Lusty in the order they were given and draws attention to the June 10 response which outlines the context in which Mr Lusty made his quotes.

23. Mr Timmo also points out to the council that Mr Lusty concedes he could have chosen his words better, which suggests he regretted his comments and later tried to distance himself from them by blaming Stuff’s legitimate and accurate reporting.

Further letter of complaint

24. Mr Lusty responded to Mr Timmo’s response with a second letter, which directed Mr Timmo to a video of the meeting, and Mr Lusty’s comments. Mr Lusty points to several points on the video, including four which reference Mr Lusty referring to gully projects

25. Mr Lusty also notes that at 46 minutes on the video he says Ngati Haua Mahi Trust are our partners in the gully, they do most of the work”.

26. Mr Lusty concludes that he found it difficult to conclude why the WRA was contacted by the story author “representing that I was claiming 99 per cent of all restoration work in the Waikato River catchment was carried out by retired Pakeha.” This was deliberately misrepresenting the context of “our report” to the Hamilton City Council, Mr Lusty said.

Further response from Stuff

27. Mr Timmo responded by rejecting that the story was misleading and referring Mr Lusty to his response outlined in point 17 above. Mr Timmo noted that the reporter contacted Mr Lusty to clarify his position, and Mr Lusty replied via text “saying you were talking about volunteers only”.

28. Mr Timmo noted that Mr Lusty wanted a retraction, but it was not clear of what – “your accurately reported comment?”

29. Mr Timmo said he was sorry Mr Lusty was aggrieved. “This doesn’t mean we either avoid contentious reporting, softsoap it or apologise for it after the fact if someone would like to later reframe their comments”

The Decision

Principle 1 – Accuracy, Fairness and Balance.

30. Mr Lusty objects to the reference to “heroes”. The Media Council considers this is a fair description in the context of this story'

31. Mr Lusty objects to the story saying One of the presenters, George Lusty, says the volunteer figure is as high as 99 per cent. Mr Lusty complains that “in the context of the report, this refers only to the Pakeha members of voluntary gully restoration groups in Hamilton City”.

32. Mr Lusty is identified within the story as speaking on gully restoration, but the early portion of the story gives the impression he is speaking about all conservation work in the Waikato. This is misleading. The video of the meeting reinforces that Mr Lusty is speaking from a gully perspective.In the video that Mr Lusty has referred Stuff and the Media Council to, at 13.01, Mr Lusty is introduced to the council by Go Eco’s spokeswoman, who says Go Eco work with a diverse range of groups “The gully groups are just a few of those”. The Media Council notes that Mr Lusty makes a confusing statement in the video which Stuff sought to clarify by arranging an interview with him. He replied via text that he was referring to volunteer work. The onus in this situation is on the reporter to establish the accuracy and context of the comments. Further clarification was required.

33. Mr Lusty says quoting the Waikato River Authority CEO – who said “I’m gobsmacked” implies that Mr Lusty’s comments were referring to the whole Waikato River catchment, rather than a part of Hamilton. The story reads as if the CEO is reacting to Mr Lusty observing that 99 per cent of all conservation workers in the Waikato are Pakeha and retired. The majority of the Media Council considers this is misleading.

Upheld, by a majority

34. The story states Go Eco’s assertion, and other comments in its report to HCC, offended councillors and Mayor Andrew King who said it was awash with political and derogatory overtones that shouldn’t be accepted by council.Mr Lusty says this creates a contextual implication that the “other comments” have something to do with Mr Lusty. The Media Council disagrees - it is clear the reference to "other comments" refers to the report, not Mr Lusty.

Principle 6 – Headlines and captions.

35. The Media Council considers that the headlineEco group says Hamilton's conservation heroes are old, white and privileged is an accurate representation of the Go Eco report.

36. Similarly, the Media Council considers that the term eco warrior accurately depicts a person fighting for the betterment of the environment. It could be said to be a compliment, and the term could fairly apply to Mr Lusty.

Not Upheld.

Principle 9 – Subterfuge

37. In the absence of any supporting detail around the content or context of the comment sought from the WRA, and how it was framed, this is an allegation without supporting evidence.

Not Upheld

Final decision

38. Based on the points stated in paragraphs 32 and 33, the majority of the Media Council partly upholds Mr Lusty’s complaint. This was a confusing situation that required close analysis to unravel. Mr Timmo was right in observing that it was not clear what Mr Lusty wanted a retraction of. Having read the complaints extensively and viewed the video several times, the Media Council observes that amidst the multiple strands of the complaint, Mr Lusty was seeking to have his 99 per cent comment contextually aligned with his area of expertise, so it did not look like he was opining about all conservation work in Waikato.That seems fair.

39. On balance we uphold this complaint.The article was not accurate or fair.Mr Lusty was misquoted in that a statement he had made only about work on the gully area was wrongly turned into a statement about the whole Waikato river catchment. and this could have been avoided. However, Stuff deserves mitigation for trying to clarify what Mr Lusty said, but should have persisted given the video is clear Mr Lusty is a gully conservationist and the context of his 99 per cent observation was from his experience. Altering the story to make it clear that Mr Lusty was speaking from his sector experience would have done little to reduce the strength of a good story based on a controversial statement in the Go Eco report.

Decision – Part Upheld by a majority 7:4.

40. Jo Cribb, Tracy Watkins, Hank Schouten and Tim Watkin would not uphold any aspect of the complaint and dissented from the uphold decision.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.