The New Zealand Press Council had upheld a complaint against the Sunday News for an article it published on 5 July on illegal housies run by Pacific Island churches.

The Department of Internal Affairs had complained to the Press Council after the Sunday News refused to apologise for the article. The article, headlined “Inspectors preying on church’s housie dens,” had stated that hundreds of Pacific Island church groups were breaking the law by holding fundraising housies with food parcels as prizes.

The department complained the article created a false and misleading impression that inspectors preyed on church housies and that they would be prosecuted if they were caught.

In response the Sunday News said it had no reason to apologise and that it had run a letter from the department three weeks later clarifying the department’s position.

The article had stemmed from a press release the Internal Affairs Department issued in late June to the Kapi Mana News and Porirua News raising concerns about illegal home housies being run in Porirua. The statement included advice from the Senior Inspector of Gaming Richard Moroney that organisers and players of illegal home housies should cease immediately or face the risk of prosecution. Subsequent articles
appeared in both community newspapers.

Sunday News followed up those articles and its reporter rang Mr Moroney and asked whether church housies were also illegal. He confirmed they were.

From his comments, the original press statement, the article in the Kapi Mana News, the reporter’s own knowledge of church housies and statements by the chairman of the Wellington Samoan Advisory Council, the Sunday News constructed its articles that church housies faced prosecution.

The acting editor of the Sunday News said in his response to the Council that Mr Moroney had confirmed church housies were illegal and in the earlier press statement the department had warned it would prosecute illegal home housies.

The department said its statement had only mentioned home housies and had made no reference to church housies. Mr Moroney had confirmed church housies were illegal, but he never suggested they would be targeted or prosecuted.

The Press Council believed the Sunday News had been sloppy in the article by linking Mr Moroney’s confirmation that church housies were illegal to an earlier and separate press statement on home housies. That was the sole justification for the paper running the article saying inspectors were preying on church housies.

The Council also believed the headline “Inspectors preying on Church’s housie dens” was provocative and inaccurate. It created the unjustifiable impression that the department would target Pacific Island churches and prosecute them for running illegal housies.
The complaint was upheld.


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