JULIE FAIREY AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2865

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2020

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Comment and Fact

Overview

On November 27, 2019, the New Zealand Herald published a comment piece penned by Professor Peter Curson on his observations of the Auckland CBD.Julie Fairey complains that the article is inaccurate as per Principle 1 and disagrees with Professor Curson’s views about the centre of Auckland.

The Article

On a recent trip to his home town of Auckland, Sydney resident Professor Curson outlined his views on the current state of the Auckland CBD.He starts by outlining his growing ‘disappointment’ with the current state.Ten years previously he had written two pieces for the Herald on the ‘failed charms’ of downtown Auckland.In this article, clearly labelled as comment, he does so again.

As the article progresses he makes the following points: that Queen Street is now filled with ‘’cheap shops’’ ; there are few bookshops (and that people do not read books or newspapers in the ‘’old style’’), that the buildings remaining in the CBD are a ‘’motley collection of poor ill-fitting bits and pieces”, TV news is poor, and the road system is frustrating (including traffic lights which are, in his view, much slower to change than Sydney).He declares that everything is too expensive.

Some positives are identified – a nice restaurant in Parnell, ‘’a few oases of hope’’ such as Albert Park and he considers the airport efficient.

The Complaint

Julie Fairey complains that the article is factually inaccurate and stated as fact, not observations. She produces a number of examples of evidence to disprove statements in the article:

  • A list of heritage buildings to counter Curson’s statement “Smith and Caughey’s and the Civic remain the few remnants of our past heritage on Queen Street”.
  • Noting the return of Farmers department store to Queen Street, to counter the question from Curson “where are the … classic department stores?”
  • That Queen Street is now home to top international brands such as Gucci, Dior and Prada, as evidence to counter the claim in the article that “the allure of Queen Street with its long history of top shops has evaporated”.
  • Discussion about the number of pedestrian spaces to respond to the statement in the article “High Street, which remains a jumble of parked and passing cars..”

The Response

Edward Rooney from the New Zealand Herald responds.He states that he has considered the complainant’s points and in doing so, notes that the article contains the opinions and views of Professor Curzon.They are his observations and he is entitled to share such views.

Rooney points out ‘that the author is an Emeritus Professor of Population and Health at Macquarie University and Honorary Professor of Population and Security at the University of Sydney” and that “even without these qualifications, he would be entitled to express his views after making observations”.

However, the editor, on receiving this complaint, chose to make an amendment to the reference to about the absence of book shops on High Street in the on-line version.He included reference to Unity Books which is based in this area.

The Decision

As the complainant points out, “the writer is entitled to his opinion, and indeed this is an opinion column”.The complainant however goes on to state that the article is full of errors of fact and while again acknowledging the author’s right to express his views, states that they should not have been published because they are erroneous.

The Council disagrees.The article is clearly labelled as comment and presents the author’s observations of the centre of Auckland.While the complainant clearly disagrees with the author’s views about what he has seen, this does not make his observations inaccurate.

This is clearly a piece of nostalgia based on what the writer remembers from years gone by, from personal observation and his taste in urban planning. While his observations may not have captured a full picture of the CBD and its development, this does not amount to errors in terms of material facts. To uphold a complaint against a column such as this would put unhealthy restrictions around the publication of diverse and personal opinions.

As such, the Council can see no breach of its Principles. 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.

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