Case Number: 3468

Council Meeting: December 2023

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: The Post

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Headlines and Captions
Discrimination and Diversity

Ruling Categories: Misleading
Unfair Coverage

Ian Sellen complains a front-page story and headline published in The Post newspaper on 23 November 2023 promoted opposition towards cyclists.

The story was headlined Peak Stupidity? with a secondary heading of Bus lanes designed to reduce rush-hour congestion will achieve the opposite, councillor says.

The story, which led with a councillor’s criticism of Wellington City Council’s plans to improve bus and cycle routes along the Hutt Road, was illustrated with two photographs. The larger main image showed three cyclists and the smaller image showed a city bus on the road.

Ian Sellen complained the juxtaposition of the word “stupidity” and the main photograph was clearly designed to foster more antagonism towards cyclists from ordinary readers, especially those who just glance at the front page without bothering to read the article.

Mr Sellen said the article was ostensibly about bus lanes yet the main photograph accompanying the story depicted cyclists. In addition, he said there was no balance, no counter argument and no mention of the need to reduce carbon emissions in the print story.

The Post defended the headline saying it related to a quote in the story and was not inaccurate or misleading in the context of the article.

Media Council Principle (6) Headlines and Captions states that headlines “should accurately and fairly convey the substance or a key element of the report they are designed to cover.” The Council believes the headline used in this story is not inappropriate. It has always held that headlines must be read in conjunction with the story they highlight.

There is nothing to suggest it was designed to foster antagonism to cyclists. Balance was also not an issue. The headline reflects what a councillor thinks of changes proposed by the city council which are also reported in the story. As for not mentioning carbon emissions, it’s implicit and does not have to be mentioned every time roading changes are proposed.  

The Council can see the argument that it may be misleading to use a photograph of cyclists as the main illustration for a story about peak hour bus lanes. However, cycles do use this section of the route.

Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.


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