NORTHLAND REGIONAL COUNCIL AGAINST THE NORTHERN ADVOCATEWarren MacLennan wrote, as Chief Executive Officer of the Northland Regional Council, complaining about an editorial in The Northern Advocate, which was published on 10 April 2002. The editorial, headlined “Northland Regional Council so inept”, discussed the contamination of local oyster beds, assigning much responsibility to the Council.
Mr MacLennan said the article was full of inaccuracies, the paper had subsequently failed to apologise to him and his letter of rebuttal had been abridged omitting points made by him. The rebuttal outlined Mr MacLennan’s view that, on the points made in the editorial, the Council was not at fault, had been thwarted by central government or that responsibility lay with other bodies.
The editor, who has since retired, said the editorial was not inaccurate therefore there was no need for a formal apology. The paper had printed Mr MacLennan’s rebuttal, which even in abridged form was considerable larger than the original editorial.
The New Zealand Press Council believes that the abridgement of Mr MacLennan’s letter was slight and did not materially impact the views expressed. The NZPC recommends that when a letter is abridged this fact be acknowledged. The paper published the letter promptly but did not acknowledge, by footnote or correction, that it had erred.
Central to the editorial was the claim, “ The NRC granted consents to the oyster farmers. In doing so it surely took on an obligation to ensure that water would be clean enough and safe enough for the farmers to use those consents.” This was a fundamental factual error, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries had actually granted these consents, and on-going responsibility for monitoring the farms rests with Northland Health. Whilst this was mentioned in Mr MacLennan’s published letter, the paper should have acknowledged the error themselves.
The Press Council acknowledges that opinion may be freely expressed in the editorial column but any information given as fact should be accurate.
Accordingly the complaint is upheld.