A complaint by Ian Geary against The Timaru Herald has not been upheld by the Press Council

On 5 June 2009 Mr Geary sent by email a classified advertisement he wished to place in The Timaru Herald. Later that day, following communication with a reporter from the newspaper, Mr Geary withdrew the advertisement.

Meanwhile Herald staff, recognising Mr Geary’s name from previous stories concerning the suspension of his practicing certificate, decided to run a news story about Mr Geary’s submission of a proposed advertisement. They emailed the proposed story to Mr Geary asking for his comments and also spoke to him by phone.

The article, published on 8 June and headlined ‘Psychologist’ ad may be misleading, led with the New Zealand Psychologists Board’s expressed concerns that a person whose registration to practise had been suspended seemed to be proposing to advertise his services in a way that could mislead “a naïve reader” into concluding he “was either A a psychologist or B practising psychology.”

The article went on to set out Mr Geary’s views that he was not advertising his service as a psychologist, but that he was entitled to say that he had 35 plus years’ experience as a clinical/registered psychologist.

The Complaint
Mr Geary felt he had been treated unfairly by taking material which he intended for an advertisement and making a story out of it. He thought the reporter who first contacted him, and later the editor and deputy editor, all had an axe to grind. He contended that the newspaper was conducting a concerted and irrational campaign against him.

He said language used by the newspaper denigrated him. He also thought the newspaper was not accurate in reporting that he was an unregistered psychologist.

Mr Geary also complained that the Herald story was inaccurate as to the date his practising certificate was suspended and that the newspaper stated he had failed the Board’s “competence programme” when he had been required to undertake a “competence review”.

He said he had “read and reread the proposed advertisement and all I can see is an appropriate reference to my 35 years experience as a psychologist in the past. I believe I had every right to mention that extensive involvement.”

The Newspaper’s Response
David King, editor of The Timaru Herald, responded that Mr Geary has had his registration suspended, but was clearly trying to advertise his services without revealing that he is offside with his professional body.

“We felt it was important to draw our readers’ attention to these concerns. We simply did our job and I am proud that we did so.”

The newspaper said its staff had been professional in their dealings with Mr Geary. It said Mr Geary was given a full and fair chance to respond to the story it intended to run, including being given an advance copy, which was unusual.

Discussion and Finding
The Press Council notes that the previously-published articles sent by Mr Geary with his complaint, reported on Mr Geary’s suspension by the Psychologists Board, his subsequent appeal to the court and a previous attempt to advertise his services in 2006. All these stories have been generated by events as they have occurred. They do not represent a concerted and irrational campaign against him.

On the occasion complained about the newspaper determined to run a news item from the proposed advertisement. The Council has no issue with this. Mr Geary was given the opportunity to comment and his views were published. The alleged inaccuracies are not material.

The Press Council believes The Timaru Herald has carried out its journalistic duty of informing the public and supports the editor in his stance.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Ruth Buddicom, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.


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