MICHAEL SHARP AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 3096

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2021

Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Advertisements
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge

Overview

This complaint is about articles from the OneRoof real estate website being reproduced almost daily on theNew Zealand Herald website and that this is done to interest people in becoming involved in the real estate market.

Michael Sharp said that normally a business would have to pay for promotional articles in a news service and these would be marked “paid content” so readers could distinguish them from genuine news articles.

With OneRoof articles no such disclaimers were provided, apparently on the basis that theHerald was not receiving any direct payment for this. He said this was misleading conduct by theHerald as they had obviously been directed by their owners to publish the articles for the commercial advantage of their associated OneRoof entity.

NZME senior newsroom editor Oskar Alley said the Herald website featured content from OneRoof’s team of journalists in the same way that its motoring section “Driven” featured articles written by Driven motoring reporters, with advertisements for the cars on the same or nearby pages. All of that content was editorial and the words “sponsored content” were used on either advertorial or advertising.

The Herald and OneRoof are both owned by NZME. OneRoof is both a title given to the real estate section in theHerald as well as being a separate commercial web-site to attract real estate advertisers and buyers.

Mr Sharp says readers may not realise what is paid content and what is written byHerald journalists and also believes republication of OneRoof articles in theHerald was misleading conduct and done for the commercial advantage of OneRoof.

He has not, however, given specific examples of stories which would enable enquiries and judgements to be made on whether there has been any breach any Media Council principles.

Clearly publications have a strong commercial interest in drawing readers and advertisers and it is common practice to run articles next to subject-related advertising in various sections including property, motoring, business, fashion, food and entertainment. Stories are grouped together to draw in readers interested in related content. It is also common for publishers to share articles across various platforms and that is their call.

The OneRoof site carries clearly identified sponsored content as well as news items under journalists’ by-lines. These are mostly stories about particular properties, auction results, prices fetched and market commentary. They often include marketing hype and photos supplied by agencies which can blur the line between news and advertising. We do not think that readers will be confused between paid for articles and advertisements and reporters’ articles and materials.

There is no basis for suggesting, as Mr Sharp does, the media should stop publishing articles about property on the basis they might be adding to market pressure and fuelling price increases. Markets are influenced by many factors and if the media did not report on what was happening the public would be less informed. The sale and purchase of homes is a lawful and important economic activity and many people are interested in the market.

There is no evidence in this complaint that the Herald has breached Media Council principles relating to conflicts of interest or misleading content.

There are insufficient grounds to proceed.

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