JIM ROSE AGAINST THE SPINOFF

Case Number: 2869

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2020

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Spinoff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Columnists

Overview

1. An opinion article published on January 13, 2020 in the business section The Spinoff about “aggressive” tax planning by a number of big tech companies such as Uber was headlinedUber is a case study in our complicity with tax avoidance. The author Terry Baucher says he refuses to use Uber because it pushes “tax rules to breaking point” but he notes that “price and convenience outweigh most people’s moral indignation” and they continue to use the services of such companies.

The Complaint

2. The complainant Jim Rose says the story breached balance requirements because it failed to mention that Uber is losing billions of dollars every quarter and is not expected to be profitable before 2021 on its own forecasts. Mr Rose says the perspective of the story alleging tax avoidance would change if mention was made of losing billions every quarter. A reader might then conclude that Uber has no profits on which tax can be avoided. In a subsequent comment Mr Rose countered the response below by suggesting that the writer should have included further information about Uber’s losses against its cash reserves and the likely future consequences of this for the viability of its current business model.

The Response

3. The editor of The Spinoff Toby Manhire has passed on the author Terry Baucher’s response. Mr Baucher responds the article was not about profits, but actually said Uber is piling up billions in tax havens. Uber is using this technique to minimise their tax bills in the first place. Secondly he says that Uber is under investigation by tax authorities in several jurisdictions. Mr Baucher also cites a US Securities and Exchange Commission filing by Uber that inter alia says: “As of 30 September, 2019. $1.0 billion of our $12.7 billion in cash and cash equivalents was held by our foreign subsidiaries” in support of his view that Uber has been piling up money off shore.

The Decision

4. The Media Council notes that Mr Rose has cited lack of balance which falls under Principle 1. In this case the Council considers that the Principle 5 Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters is also applicable. The piece is clearly identified as opinion, and an article is therefore regarded as the author’s own opinions. The principle provides that though requirements of fact pertain, with comment and opinion balance is not essential.

5. The article was not in fact about profits but focussed on tax havens and tax planning. The article goes beyond the case of Uber to talk more widely to other “tech giants” and their “aggressive tax planning practices”.The author expresses his opinions about these practices, and his distaste for them. He quotes the 2019 final report of the New Zealand Tax Working Group’s comments, that a large number of submissions showed many people feel a deep sense of unfairness about the way in which the tax system deals with international companies and digital firms.

6. The complainant is faulting the author on omission of what he considers to be information necessary to balance the story. The story is part of a wider, in fact international, public discussion and controversy about tax practices of large multinationals in the tech sector.The article is clearly an opinion piece. The author was not obliged to cover every aspect or speculate on what is a complex and highly arguable situation. The Council finds there has been no breach of its principles in this case

7. The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.