Case Number: 998

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2004

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Sunday-Star Times

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of

The Press Council has upheld a complaint from Mr Grant Birkinshaw of Lower Hutt against the Sunday Star-Times.

Mr Birkinshaw complained that the banner “Free Magazine” on the front page of several issues of the Sunday Star-Times in June and July 2004, promoting its new magazine supplement, was misleading.

He stated: “I object most strongly to the false and dishonest advertising on Television and in the Sunday Star-Times which proclaims that the “Sunday” supplement is free. It is not free as it is a high gloss expensive supplement. The cost of it is met by the purchaser. Also, I would like an explanation as to if it was “Free” why did the newspaper increase its cost an extra 20 cents, or was this just “coincidence”…”

In his letter of response to Mr Birkinshaw’s complaint, Mr David McKenzie, the General Manager of the Fairfax Sunday Newspapers group, described the new magazine as a “business improvement” and argued that the increase of the cost of the newspaper and the launch of the magazine supplement were coincidental. He further pointed out that there was no increase of price to subscribers, and that the price increase was a budgeted increase, in line with those made on other newspapers from time to time.

Mr Birkinshaw responded to this explanation by pointing out that the cost of the new magazine was being passed on to the consumer, and that the magazine was not free.

Since Mr Birkinshaw’s complaint, the Sunday Star-Times has dropped the word “free” from its banner advertising the magazine supplement, and the Press Council is pleased to note this.

However, the Press Council has concluded that the public perception of a price increase of the Sunday Star-Times at the same time as the launch of a new supplement does appear to mislead the public.

The complaint is therefore upheld.