JIM SCHOFIELD AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 2695
Council Meeting: JULY 2018
Verdict: Not Upheld
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Stuff published an article online on May 17, 2018 about a Tenancy Tribunal case which saw two tenants in Auckland be awarded nearly $4,000 in damages from Walker Weir Property Management – property managers of the property which the tenants tenanted.
The article was initially headlined “Tenants must pay over hangi pit” but this was changed to “Property manager claims compensation after tenants dig hangi pit in backyard”. The sub-title read “Tenants must pay compensation after digging a hangi pit in the backyard of their south Auckland rental property”.
Whilst the property company was found to owe the tenants nearly $4,000, the Tribunal did deduct cost for a successful counter-claim by the property managers.One of these costs was $80 to re-sow the grass that was dug up for a hangi pit.There were other costs deducted as well however Stuff did seek to focus on the hangi pit compensation.
Dr Schofield complains that Stuff breached a number of Media Council principles:
- Principle 1 – Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
- Principle 2 – Privacy
- Principle 4 – Comment and Fact
- Principle 6 – Headlines and Captions
- Principle 7 – Discrimination and Diversity
- Principle 12 – Corrections
Dr Schofield has made a number of arguments however most would seem to sit in the following themes
- The article is inaccurate, unfair and biased and could give readers an inaccurate or unfair view of the tenants which would impact future tenancies and job opportunities.The $80 reduction is to cover the re-sow of some grass and is not related to a hangi or umu.
- Accuracy is not found in the story until later when the full compensation owning to the tenants is disclosed. The heading and sub-heading is inaccurate and should not have been the focus of the article.
The amount of $80 was minimal compared to the amount to be paid by the property management company so bias was present when Stuff chose to focus their article on this part of the Tribunal decision.
David Gadd, Chief News Director Auckland for Stuff responded:
- The article does not breach Principle 1. The facts are accurate and Dr Schofield acknowledges that all pertinent facts of the decision are contained in the article.The ordering of the facts however seems to be the crux of the issue.Stuff has the prerogative to decide which part of the Tribunal decision is newsworthy and in this case the hangi aspect was chosen.
- Principle 2 – Privacy – is not breached as the Tribunal’s decisions are public.
- It is not an opinion piece so Principle relating to Comment and Fact cannot be considered.
- On Principle 6 in relation to Headlines and Captions, Mr Gadd argues that the facts are accurate but again it is the ordering of the facts and again is the prerogative of Stuff.
- The Corrections principle does not count in this case as there are no inaccuracies in the story which have been identified by the complainant.
- Lastly, the principle relating to discrimination and diversity is not breached because there was no gratuitous emphasis.It is not tenant bashing; it was an article on a public Tribunal decision which Stuff chose to take an angle which Dr Schofield did not like.
Tenancy Tribunal decisions are public.The Council has reviewed the decision and the article and agrees with Stuff that there are no inaccuracies within the story.It agrees with the arguments put forward by Mr Gadd across all the Principles.
The technical accuracy of the title and sub-title and the point about re-ordering of facts did raise a discussion point amongst the Council.However, the re-ordering and emphasis on the hangi story doesn’t breach any Media Council principles.
Media Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.