Case Number: 3000

Council Meeting: MARCH 2021

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: NewsRoom

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage


On February 22, 2021 Newsroom published The madness at Wellington’s library. The sub head explainedWellington City councillor Rebecca Matthews fights the sale of the city’s public library.

The piece started “I sat aghast last week as Wellington Mayor Andy Foster and the majority of my councillor colleagues blithely put our library up for sale …”. The very personal piece outlined what books, reading and in particular the library had meant to her. She argued that libraries are more than just the sum of their parts. The library as a public space has become just as important as the books on the shelves. For homeless people, lonely people, young people, a library is home. None of the building should be sold, she argued.

The piece was published in the context of a surprise late addition to the Wellington City Council long term plan discussion where the Mayor proposed selling part of the Victoria Street building to private investors for office space. Councillors voted 9-6 in favour of this proposal.

Paul Day complained that the Newsroom piece breached accuracy, fairness and balance. Throughout the article there were multiple references to the library being for sale and being privatized but no evidence was presented – no asking price, no listing agent noted, no legal documents or commitments noted. “Nowhere in the article does it suggest that it is an opinion piece” he says. There was no editorial oversight suggesting that the library is not actually for sale and that it is rather being discussed as part of a democratic process. The article is deeply misleading and scaremongering.

The Media Council is of the view the piece is very obviously an opinion piece. It is written by a city councillor, not a journalist. At the outset it is stated, “Wellington City councillor Rebecca Matthews fights the sale of the city’s public library”. This plainly sets the stage for a statement of opinion. In the language that follows it is full of the language of personal opinion. It starts, “I sat aghast…”

Balance is not required in an opinion piece, and there are no demonstrated errors of fact. While the sale has not proceeded to the point that the matters listed by Mr Day have been undertaken, a majority of the council members have voted that the proposal should proceed.

Finding: Insufficient Grounds to Proceed


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