JENN IRELAND AGAINST STAR MEDIA

Case Number: 2761

Council Meeting: MARCH 2019

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Star Media

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Conflict of Interest
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. Jenn Ireland has lodged a complaint against media organisation, Star Media, about an online article published on January 28 entitled“Noise complaints prompt investigation into use of burnout pad.”The article was published in theWestern News on January 29, 2019.Star Media is a member of the Allied Press group.

2. Ms Ireland is of the view that there is a breach of Media Council Principle 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance); Principle 4 (comment and fact), Principle 7 (discrimination and diversity), and Principle 10 (conflicts of interest).

3.The Media Council upholds the complaint in relation to Principle 1 only.

Background

4.On January 28, 2019, Star Media published an online article entitled “Noise complaints prompt investigation into use of burnout pad”.The article was published in theWestern News, which is also part of Star Media.The article asks whether a burnout pad can be used at Ruapuna Speedway.Two noise complaints had prompted the Council to investigate whether the resource consent issued in 2001 for an indefinite period had lapsing provisions relating to that consent.If the resource consent was found to have lapsed then a new resource consent would need to be issued and further burnout activity to cease until then.

5.Jenn Ireland and her husband are owners and operators of Johanax Events Limited and operate a national and international motorsport series, New Zealand Burnout Championship.A round of that championship was held at Ruapuna Speedway in Christchurch on January 19 which resulted into two noise complaints to the Christchurch City Council.

The Complaint

6. Ms Ireland acknowledges in her complaint that there were two noise complaints however they were dismissed as they were “within the Council guidelines.” She and husband were made aware of the Star Media article on the day it was published online:www.star.kiwi

7. Ms Ireland said they were not contacted by Star Media for their side of the story. She claims that the article is “very detrimental” to her business given the impact on sponsorships and credibility given some of the language used in the article e.g. weekend from hell.

8. Ms Ireland complains that the article is inaccurate, unfair and not balanced. This proposition falls on her point about not being contacted for the article. In relation to Principle 4, she is of the view that the “story” is not an article but an opinion.

9. Ms Ireland does not give her reasoning for her view that the article breached Principle 7. In regards to Principle 10, she points out that the Chair of the Yaldhurst Rural Residents Association, Sara Harnett-Kikstra, works for Star Media and this relationship was not declared and influenced the way the article was written.

The Response

10.Barry Clarke, Editor in Chief, Star Media, responds.Firstly the article is factual.No factual errors were brought to his attention by Ms Ireland or her husband, Ricky, when he and Mr Clarke had a phone conversation.

11. In regards to fairness and balance, Mr Clarke admits that the reporter should have contacted the complainant and not only Ruapuna Speedway for a comment about the noise complaints and resource consent matter.He confirms that oversight has been addressed internally.However, he confirms that it was important for the same journalist to make contact once the Council had responded to the resource consent matter and that a follow up article was likely.

12.Mr Clarke does not see the article as expressing any opinion. Moreover, the article does not discriminate against the event or Ms Ireland’s company.

13.Mr Clarke confirms that there is no conflict of interest.He acknowledges that Ms Harnett-Kikstra as chair of that residents association does contribute to the weekly Soapbox column. But that is an open forum for members of the public to write an opinion piece, which is clearly labelled as such in Star Media’s local papers.The confusion has arisen because in a Google search, Ms Harnett-Kikstra comes up as a “Star Media author”.Mr Clarke confirms that she is not an employee or contractor for Star Media.

The Decision

14. There is no conflict of interest breach. The Council can see how the confusion may have arisen given the nature of Soapbox columns however having had sight of these in Star Media’s local papers, it is clear that these are opinion pieces offered up by the any member of the public on an issue of importance to that community.Principle 10 not upheld.

15.Principle 7 in relation to discrimination and diversity has a high threshold and rightly so.The comment “weekend from hell” was noted as the viewpoint of Ms Harnett-Kikstra in her capacity as chair of that local residents association.Her remarks were in quotations for that reason.The remainder of the article did not offer gratuitous emphasis on any particular group.Not upheld.

16.In relation to Principle 4 the article was based on facts without an opinion offered by Star Media.Any reporting of views in the article was reported factually and attributed.Not upheld.

17.In relation to Principle 1, we believe the article was accurate.The question was whether Ms Ireland’s viewpoint would have been important enough to the article to offer the balance that the complainant believes it’s lacking.

18. The Council notes Mr Clarke’s admission that the reporter’s not contacting the complainant was a mistake.Whilst it has been confirmed a resource consent for the burnout pad is valid and a follow up story undertaken with the same journalist approaching Ms Ireland for comment, it still doesn’t remove the fact that Johanax Events Limited were not given the opportunity to put their side in the original article. For example - Ms Ireland knowing that those two noise complaints were withdrawn by Council, or a response from her to the Ms Harnett-Kikstra’s “weekend from hell” quote.

19. That oversight by Star Media has caused an imbalance in the article that was published both online and in print.Complaint under Principle 1 is upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Marie Shroff, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.