Mr Harris complained about an article in the Otago Daily Times headlined “Booking knockback costly for rugby fans”. The article published on 12 August 2001 following the Bledisloe cup, reported Alf Sherman’s tale of disappointment, when he and three friends came to Dunedin for the big match. The article described how the friends’ room at Leisure Lodge, booked the year before in November, was not available, and the high price they had to pay Paul Harris, an accommodation agent, for alternative accommodation.

The following day the paper printed some clarification from Peter Coppens the manager of Leisure Lodge. Mr. Coppens revealed that Alf Sherman had not booked accommodation the previous year but had merely put his name on a waiting list. The paper also included comment from Paul Harris. Mr Harris said Alf Sherman’s party had made their choice with the benefit of a schedule of tariff options. This had been faxed to them some weeks earlier.

Mr Harris felt he had been shown in a bad light by the first article and the second, which whilst it set the record straight, should not have been necessary. The ODT should have checked the claims with him before publication.

The paper in its defence said they had attempted to contact Mr Harris by phone. They had logged a call to his number, which lasted 36 seconds. They had left him a message, on his answer machine, to contact them (Mr Harris denies receiving a message).

The New Zealand Press Council notes that both Leisure Lodge and Mr Harris were unfairly criticised in the first article. If the paper had contacted either person the first article could have given a balanced account of the matter.

In the event a 36 second call to an answer machine, which after playing a greeting and possibly positioning a tape may have allowed much less time for a comprehensive message, seems a token attempt at contact. Both Barnett Lodge where Mr Harris was and Leisure land were likely to have duty staff available by phone for all but short periods during the evening. There could have been a further attempt to contact Mr Harris. Mr Coppens at Leisure Lodge could also have confirmed some detail.

The New Zealand Press Council does recognize the ODT’s immediate follow-up article reporting clarification from Mr Coppens and Mr Harris. However, this does not remove the need to make reasonable efforts to check facts before publication.

The complaint is upheld.


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