The Press Council has upheld a complaint by James Gardiner against Hawke’s Bay Today over an article published on 13 November 2009.
A Hawke’s Bay Today reporter approached Mr Gardiner, Communications Director Massey University, to seek information around a suggested threat to Massey University’s provision of primary teaching training and teacher aide programmes in Hawke’s Bay via an arrangement with Eastern Institute of Technology.
The paper subsequently published an article based on responses from Mr Gardiner, in which he was cited as saying “of the 1000 students in NZ in teaching programmes, 70 per cent were extramural.” Mr Gardiner emailed the reporter the day after the article was published, claiming that the article read as though he thought there were 1000 students in teaching programmes across New Zealand, not just at Massey. He stated that the article made him look ill-informed.
An exchange of emails between Mr Gardiner and the reporter then followed, in which the reporter apologized for the error and proposed wording for a subsequent statement to be published in the paper. A suitable wording, making clear that it was Massey University that had 1000 students in teaching programmes, was agreed.
The next day the reporter forwarded the proposed wording to her editor, Natalie Gauld, who responded to Mr Gardiner that she would not run a correction as she believed that anyone reading the article would understand, in the context, that it was only Massey University’s student numbers that were referred to, not ‘1000 students in the whole of New Zealand.’
Mr Gardiner rebutted Ms Gauld’s position, stating that it was the Hawke’s Bay Today reporter who made the error, that people would be misled by the paper’s article. He requested that Ms Gauld reconsider her decision.

The Complaint
When no reply was forthcoming from Ms Gauld, Mr Gardiner laid a complaint with the Press Council alleging breach of Principle 1 (accuracy), although he admitted that the error was neither major nor apparently deliberate. He stated that his credibility as a professional working in the field of tertiary education was undermined.

The Newspaper’s Response
Ms Gauld in reply stated that she held to her position that, in the context, the meaning was clear to readers. No other university had been cited in the article, and none of the 2 sub-editors, 2 proof readers or journalist who wrote the article had perceived any lack of clarity.
She mentioned Mr Gardiner’s admission that there was no major or deliberate error and stated her belief that Mr Gardiner had overreacted. She would not be changing her decision.

Further Responses
Mr Gardiner stated that Ms Gauld had ignored his rebuttal of her decision, and that he did not lack understanding of her role as editor or her reasons for not correcting what she concedes was an error.
He reiterated that the Press Council’s principle of accuracy states ‘at all times’ and does not distinguish between major or minor errors of fact. He claimed that there were two errors – the fact that was wrong and had been attributed to him, and the allegation, contained in his complaint, that the paper was misleading readers.
Ms Gauld responded to the Council that she still did not believe there was an error or need for correction. The whole story referred to Massey University and she felt that any fair and reasonable reader would understand the context of the quote.

This whole complaint revolved around the failure of the Hawke’s Bay Today reporter to include the phrase “The College of Education” at the start of her statement that there were more than 1000 students in teaching programmes. Mr Gardiner’s full sentence, emailed to the reporter, read “The College of Education has more than 1000 students in teaching programmes, 70 per cent of them extramural.”
The pertinent issue is whether that omission would be perceived by readers to be 1000 readers across the country, rather than at Massey University.
Although Ms Gauld pointed out in one of her responses, “We received no calls from universities or training providers questioning the article,” Council members felt that the article was misleading.

Mr Gardiner is correct that the paper had not published his statement accurately (in its omission of the words “The College of Education”). It would have been easy for Ms Gauld to have corrected the error in a subsequent edition and she should have done so.

The complaint is therefore upheld.

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


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