Titahi Bay Residents Association and Graeme Ebbett claim Kapi-Mana News failed to comply with Principles 1 (Accuracy, Balance and Fairness) and 11 (Corrections) of the Press Council Statement of Principles in relation to three pieces published on 25 September 2012. The first story was headed “Third call for Titahi Bay board” with a side piece titled “Beach row boils over”. The third, an editorial, ran under the headline “Must it be so hard?”

The Press Council does not uphold the complaints.

The pieces in question related to issues between TBRA (which Mr Ebbett chairs) on the one hand and Porirua City Council on the other as to whether Titahi Bay should have its own community board. TBRA claims it should but the Council is against it. TBRA had recently circulated a petition calling for “A locally elected Community Board for the Bay” citing concerns over the Council’s recent sale or closure of certain local assets and the manner in which the Council was administering (or not administering) rules governing vehicle access to Titahi Bay beach.

The part of the article titled “Third call for Titahi Bay board” referred to the TBRA petition and pointed out requests for a community board had been previously rejected twice by the Local Government Commission. Most of this article reported comments from the Porirua mayor Nick Leggett on the one hand and Mr Ebbett on the other as to whether a community board should be created. The part headed “Beach row boils over” referred to “simmering ill will” between the council and Mr Ebbett over beach access, ill will which had “flared” when Mr Ebbett demanded that the council stop consulting with the community as to whether cars should be allowed on the beach.

The editorial bemoaned the breakdown in relations between TBRA and the Council but questioned the need for a community board for Titahi Bay.

The Complaint
TBRA and Mr Ebbett say the Kapi-Mana News pieces were inaccurate in three ways. First, Kapi-Mana News did not set out the full background as regards the Titahi Bay community village plan, published 2005, which recommended the establishment of a community board for the area. Secondly, the paper failed to say that the council had not enforced beach vehicle access rules as it was required to do through binding agreements with TBRA and Greater Wellington Regional Council and associated Court orders. TBRA says the council has no right to reopen consultations with interested parties over beach access. Thirdly, Mr Ebbett says Kapi-Mana News was wrong when it claimed he had stood unsuccessfully for the council four times. Mr Ebbett takes particular issue with the editorial’s reference to him “taking the front foot” and “[doing the] community little good to constantly provoke an adversarial culture”. Mr Ebbett claims it is the council, not TBRA, which is the party initiating the controversy

TBRA and Mr Ebbett go further. They claim Kapi-Mana News set out to “deliberately mislead and misinform” its readers by these omissions. TBRA and Mr Ebbett are concerned the paper failed to correct its errors and did not give them a right of reply.

TBRA and Mr Ebbett say the articles failed to mention the board establishment as a “requirement” of the village plan. They say the articles were “completely personalised” to Mr Ebbett and the TBRA when they were simply advocating for the plan’s adoption. They claim that the newspaper “has allowed itself to become the vehicle for an unprincipled political attack, the sole purpose of which was evidently to discredit the TBRA, its chairman, shut down the petition and thereby control the outcome of the upcoming local body elections”.

The Response
Kapi-Mana News responds by claiming the pieces are balanced and fair while acknowledging space constraints precluded a full account of the background.

Kapi-Mana News says that the community board proposal did not feature prominently in the 2005 Titahi Bay village plan. It was just one of some 70 “proposed actions”. The establishment of the community board was not a village plan requirement. The plan is currently under review. There is no clear preference, according to Kapi-Mana News, for a community board.

The newspaper acknowledges not having referred the Mayor’s comments, about the council’s processes over the beach access rules review in the “Beach row boils over” sidebar story, to Mr Ebbett for a response. The story had opened with Mr Ebbett’s own comment. It was the council which had the right of reply.

Kapi-Mana News says its check of the Porirua City Council records shows Mr Ebbett having stood for the council four times between 1995 and 2010.

Mr Ebbett for his part says he has “no record of accepting any local body nomination seventeen years ago”.

The Decision
There is controversy over the manner by which the Titahi Bay area should be governed at a local level. This controversy has continued for some time. Such controversies have occurred elsewhere in New Zealand often as a consequence of local government reform. The issues invariably give rise to strong opposing opinions which are honestly held. Such is the price of democracy. The media often reports on these matters given the level of local interest. It is almost inevitable such reporting will not be to the liking of one group or other.

This is the case here. Kapi-Mana News serves the Titahi Bay and neighbouring areas. Questions as to whether Titahi Bay should have its own community board and the things giving rise for such a call are topical. TBRA had launched a petition which brought matters back into focus. It was not surprising the petition encouraged different views. Petitions tend to have this effect.

The Press Council considers the two parts of 25 September article to be fair and balanced. On any objective view the pieces do little more than recite the respective views of TBRA and the Porirua City mayor. The two sides of the debate are canvassed albeit in a summary form. The Press Council Principles do not require newspapers to fully rehearse the history when reporting on long running issues.

The editorial was clearly opinion falling within Principle 4 of the Statement of Principles. TBRA and Mr Ebbett disagree strongly with the editor. There will be others who agree. As the Council has said in previous decisions opinion pieces do not offend the Press Council Principles simply because they engender strong opposing reactions. The Council will only uphold a complaint against an expression of opinion in the rarest of cases. It takes extreme circumstances to do with risks to the public or gratuitous offence to a particular group for the Council to uphold a complaint in those circumstances. This is not one of those rare cases.

The Council does not uphold the complaints.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.
Clive Lind took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


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