HECTOR O'BRIEN AGAINST RADIO NEW ZEALAND

Case Number: 3275

Council Meeting: JUNE 2022

Decision: Upheld

Publication: Radio NZ

Principle: Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters
Corrections

Ruling Categories: Columnists Opinion

Overview

  1. Radio New Zealand published an article by political scientist and commentator Bryce Edwards on March 9, 2022, headlined Opinion: Supermarkets win in the end.

  2. The item, which ran under a banner reading “Comment & Analysis,” began “Opinion – Labour went into the 2020 election promising to break up the supermarket duopoly and bring down the price of food. This policy is now essentially dead.”

The Complaint

      3. Hector O’Brien complained that this was false and in breach of Media Council Principle 5 (Columns, blogs, opinions and letters) which requires opinions to have a foundation of fact.

      4. He said Labour’s election manifesto promised to conduct market studies into supermarkets and building supplies to ensure everyone is getting a fair deal.

      5. A comment that Labour had also promised reform of the banking sector was also wrong.

      6. He also complained that RNZ also breached Principle 12 (Corrections) which says that significant errors should be corrected promptly.

      7. His complaint was filed on March 9 (the date of publication).

The Response

      8.  RNZ responded on April 6 acknowledging Mr O’Brien’s concern about the article.

      9. RNZ said Dr Edwards acknowledged and apologised that his memory let him down and RNZ had amended the article accordingly.    

      10. The introduction had been amended to read:

“Labour went into the 2020 election promising a Commerce Commission market study into supermarkets and building supplies to ensure everyone is getting a fair deal. However, the Commerce Commission’s final report into New Zealand’s uncompetitive supermarket sector stopped short of breaking up the supermarket duopoly to bring down the price of food.”

       11. The article was also annotated as follows:

“This article originally said Labour went into the 2020 election promising to break up the supermarket duopoly and bring down the price of food which is inaccurate and has now been corrected. The article also mentioned banking as a sector that Labour promised to reform which is also inaccurate and has now been corrected.”

The Discussion

      12. The Media Council has little difficulty with this complaint. RNZ acknowledged that comment in the article was wrong and corrected it.

      13. However, the Council does not believe it acted quickly enough to fix obvious and significant errors of fact. Its explanation that it was in the hands of Dr Edwards, and that it did not hear back from him until April 4, was less than convincing.

      14. Publishers are responsible for material they publish, and that responsibility cannot be shrugged off by saying it was in the hands of the writer of the article. 

      15. It took four weeks to correct the column, despite a serious and obvious error. That is far from prompt, beyond the time when the story had any real currency, and few of the people who read it would have seen the corrected introduction or the annotation explaining how the article was corrected. 

      16. For the reasons set out above the Media Council finds that RNZ was in breach of Principles 5 (Columns, blogs, opinion and letters) and 12 (Corrections).

      
Decision:
The complaint is upheld


Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon. Raynor Asher (chair), Marie Shroff, Judi Jones, Alison Thom, Richard Pamatatau, Hank Schouten, Tim Watkin, Jonathan Mackenzie and Craig Cooper.

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