KEN RING AGAINST CANVAS MAGAZINE
Case Number: 2051
Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2008
Verdict: Not Upheld
Publication: Canvas Magazine
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Comment and Fact
Canvas Magazine in its edition of 21 June 2008 ran a cover story entitled Thinking outside the Square. On its cover it referred to the story as follows:
“What’s the big idea?
Radical thinkers who don’t care if you call them cranks.”
The article referred to three radical thinkers, one of whom was Ken Ring described as “the alternative weather man and global warming sceptic”. Mr Ring complains that the story breached five of the NZ Press Council’s principles, namely accuracy (Principle 1), corrections (Principle 2), privacy (Principle 3), comment and fact (Principle 6), and advocacy (Principle 7).
In his correspondence, Mr Ring sought an apology for issues of double standard, for bias due to personality, for misquote of website, for pestering about his financial details, for compromising his safety with regards to security issues, for outright deceit in making up things he didn’t say, for lack of balance and for incompetence and inadequacy in research.
The complaint is not upheld.
The stand first to the article read:
Sarah Lang meets three New Zealanders with radical theories or beliefs. Will they be dismissed as cranks and forgotten, or could they one day be viewed as visionary?
The introductory paragraphs refer to people with radical ideas on the edge of society. It notes that countless cranks have been denounced only to be proven right in time. It notes that not everyone with a radical idea is vindicated as a visionary and that some will always be seen as cranks.
It then refers to three persons with radical theories, one of whom was Mr Ring.
In his letter of complaint to the magazine, Mr Ring notes that a visionary is apparently someone worthy while the crank is not. He alleges that the article makes it clear that the other two subjects were visionaries in the eyes of the reporter while he was a crank. It is appropriate to summarise the complaint and the response under the various principles relied upon.
Comment and Fact
Mr Ring complains that he was the only one of the three interviewed who was treated with negativity. He gave four examples:
There was an inference that if a business was booming, it must be both slick and some set up. This arose from the paragraph which started:
This is a booming business not an eccentric sideline: a slick set up includes …
It was only the journalist’s opinion that he was problematic and not necessarily a fact. This arose from a quotation from Mr Ring where he said:
“They come up to me and say ‘everybody knows the moon created the weather, where’s the problem?’”
Because there is one.
He objected to the comment “a little rank” where after commenting on a successful prediction made by Mr Ring, the story said:
Isn’t it a little rank to send a warning message in retrospect to score blows against your detractors?
The reference to “in a long monologue, Ring blusters about …” suggests that he is bad tempered, which suggests that he is a crank as the preliminary comments suggested that a crank was often bad tempered.
The magazine in response claims that none of the three subjects were classified as either crank or visionary. The story was about presenting their theories/beliefs for readers to learn more about them and form their own opinion on those theories/beliefs. In respect of the four examples given by Mr Ring, its position is:
The reference to a booming business and a slick set up was referring to the fact that the business employs quite a few staff including marketing and business consultants, in case anyone thought it was a one person business.
The reference referred to does not say that Mr Ring is problematic. It was merely saying that there is a problem because many people strongly disagree with his views.
The reference to being “a little rank” was a question not a statement. It was a question that the journalist was entitled to ask.
The reference to “blusters” was an explanation of the manner in which the journalist thought Mr Ring was speaking. It was used within its meaning of “protest and rants”.
Canvas is a magazine which is entitled to give its opinions and make comment providing it does so on the basis of correct facts. In the Council’s view it has not infringed the Council’s principle which requires publications, as far as possible, to make proper distinctions between reporting of facts and conjecture, passing of opinion and comment.
The booming business and slick set up does not in the Council’s view carry the inference that the business was “both slick and some set up”. The article described the business as having six employees including web designer, sales executive, business consultant and marketing manager. “Slick” has the dictionary meaning of skilful, efficient, as well as less favourable meanings.
The reference to “where’s the problem?” is supported by facts in the article. It refers to the many supporters and customers that Mr Ring has, but also to his detractors. Such a position is inevitable in cases where a person espouses non-conventional theories. There is no breach of principle.
The term “little rank” is in a question for the reader to consider. It is based on a statement of fact. It does carry an implication of censure but a journalist is entitled to express his or her views providing the facts are clearly stated. There appears to be no dispute as to the fact upon which the question is posed.
Nor does the Council believe that the word “blusters” infringes the principle. It conveys the journalist’s opinion of the manner in which Mr Ring responded. That journalist may have formed an opinion which may not have been shared by others but was entitled to express her opinion on the manner in which Mr Ring responded.
The complaint is that Mr Ring’s website address was wrongly stated as it appeared as “predict-weather.com”. The hyphen was included because the word was split at the end of a line.
The magazine apologised to Mr Ring for the introduction of the hyphen which was not picked up in editing. It has been corrected.
The Council determines that there has been no breach of the corrections principle in the circumstances of this case.
There are three complaints made in respect of the privacy principle, namely:
the journalist requested on more than one occasion details of Mr Ring’s income;
the second sentence of the portion on Mr Ring read:
As I pull up outside his ramshackle Titirangi home, he is watching me on a hidden security camera.
Objection is taken to the word “ramshackle” as this adds weight to the fact that he was a crank. It is more likely that a crank rather than a visionary lives in a ramshackled house.
Arising from the sentence referred to in the previous subparagraph, Mr Ring claims that what he does for his security has now been made public as the story describes the security system in ways that infers that he is paranoid.
The magazine’s response to three complaints is:
The journalist admits asking about his income on more than one occasion when it came up during the interview. At one stage he showed her a private contract from Channel 7 including a confidential salary amount which he asked her not to mention.
The magazine stands by its description of “ramshackle” as the term was used in its dictionary meaning of “likely to fall apart because of shoddy construction or upkeep”.
The reference to security was inserted to mention that Mr Ring was very safety conscious. The magazine does not believe it breached the privacy principle because readers would not gain any knowledge from the story about his address. The fact is that he did have a security system and was watching the journalist on it as she arrived.
The Council does not find a breach of its privacy principle. There was no reference in the article itself to income and the questioning, while perhaps being offensive to Mr Ring, was not a breach of privacy. The description of the house was as the journalist saw it and although Mr Ring strenuously denies that the description is adequate, it cannot be said to be a breach of privacy.
Finally, the Council does not believe that the reference to the hidden security camera is a breach of privacy. Although it accepts that Mr Ring’s address could be readily ascertained, it does not consider that the reference is a breach of privacy which exposes his security. If anything, it is likely to deter breaches of his security.
There are four examples given of an alleged breach of the accuracy principle. Under this principle a publication is to be guided at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance. The four examples are:
The article reported Mr Ring to be “scornful of forecasters for ignoring the moon as a long range tool”.
The article stated:
Long-term comparisons show little co-relation between his predictions and out of the ordinary weather … Mr Ring noted the many people who pay for his forecasts.
The article quoted at length two people who have constructed websites criticising Mr Ring’s views without mentioning counter-articles to those which attack him.
The last paragraph of the article wasn’t true. It claimed that he was incorrect when he said that Galileo, Copernicus, Nostradamus and Newton were forecasters and astrologers.
The newspaper’s response to the four issues is:
The journalist believed that he was scornful of other forecasters who did not accept his long range system. During the interview he did say that the other forecasters “don’t want to lose face, the farmers are already saying Niwa stands for No Idea What’s Ahead”.
In referring to long term comparisons the journalist was referring to a study by a meteorologist described in an article in the New Zealand Geographic in 2006 which rated Mr Ring’s success rate. The results were not favourable. She also relied upon examples by three other critics of Mr Ring.
The article did not quote at length two people who had constructed websites against him, it merely mentioned that those websites existed.
The comment in the last paragraph was based on the opinion of Dr Campion, a world authority on the history of astrology and was quoted as such.
The Council does not find a breach of its accuracy principle in that it is obvious that the “scornful of forecasters” was a comment by the journalist based on comments made by Mr Ring. There was not extensive quoting from the two websites, although there was a reasonably extensive quote from Bill Keir which was not complimentary to Mr Ring. However, the Council accepts that overall the article was balanced. Balance does not have to be achieved by providing an equal amount of space for the two contrary views. The article does contain many favourable comments on Mr Ring and his forecasting. It noted, that his annual Predict Weather Almanac issues among the top 10 New Zealand non-fiction sellers. There is a reference to his demand as a speaker for many organisations. The article is balanced.
The Council accepts that the reference “long term comparisons” could have been supplemented by reference to the source of the information upon which the comment was made. However, in its view this is not sufficient to uphold the complaint.
The final paragraph criticism is based on different views held by Mr Ring and Dr Campion. The article makes it clear that it is Dr Campion’s view and as such, accuracy is not infringed.
The complaint is that the starting premise of the article was that Mr Ring was a crank and the article sought to discover fault at the outset. The Council does not interpret the article this way. When the article is read as a whole including the comments on the other two persons, the Council does not detect that the magazine sought to establish that Mr Ring was a crank. As noted there are comments supportive of Mr Ring. Nor does the Council accept that the article suggests Mr Ring is a crank. It refers to a person who has been successful but is controversial. In the Council’s view there was no breach of the advocacy principle.
For the above reasons the complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Beck, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Denis McLean, Lynn Scott and Alan Samson
John Gardner took no part in the consideration of this complaint.