PETER MCFARLANE AGAINST MEDIAWORKS NEWSHUB

Case Number: 2913

Council Meeting: JUNE 2020

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Mediaworks

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions

Overview

1. On April 2, 2020 Newshub published on its website an article headlinedGovernment turned down request for help from struggling publisher Bauer Media. A sentence in the story read: “ButNewshub can reveal Bauer asked the government to bail it out – to buy its magazines and to save jobs as a last minute lifeline, for bottom dollar.”

The story was also broadcast. All the parties to the complaint agreed the complaint should be dealt with by the Media Council rather than the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

The complaint is not upheld.

The Complaint

2. The complainant Peter McFarlane takes issue with the article and the headline. He finds the statement in the story about the last minute buyout request was unsupported by corroborating information and should therefore be regarded as opinion only. Little counterbalancing information was given, and only generic remarks were reported from the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister. Mr McFarlane says the story is therefore misleading to the reader because it presents opinion as fact. In respect of the headline, the assertion in the article that Bauer Media made the last minute request and were turned down is supported only by a single sentence in the article, and is therefore unrepresentative and misleading. He makes complaints under Media Council Principles 1, 4 and 6.

3. The complainant seeks correction of the headline and article, a further correcting article and an apology and retraction, to be both published and broadcast.

The complainant also notes that he found the complaints procedure so hard to access it could be regarded as a barrier to complaints.

The Response

4. Newshub apologised to the complainant for the delay in responding to the initial complaint, and for subsequent delays in dealing with it.

5. On Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Mediaworks Standards Committee (MSC) said this report by theNewshub political editor was based on information from more than one credible source. The report of a last minute offer was put to the Finance Minister and the quotes from him in the article were directly in response to that.

6. On Principle 4 Comment and Fact, the MSC said that the article was not an opinion piece and that it was based entirely on facts. The political editor does not comment on her sources and in this case the MSC was satisfied with the verification of sources.

7. On Principle 6 Headlines and Captions, the MSC says the information in the headline was verified by two sources and, because it was exclusive toNewshub, the decision was made to highlight it in the headline.

The Decision

8. The Council notes that under its Principle 8, “Publications have a strong obligation to protect against disclosure of the identity of confidential sources. They also have a duty to take reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that such sources are well informed and that the information they provide is reliable.”

9. The events surrounding the closure of Bauer Media’s titles in New Zealand were a prominent story and the subject of much media coverage from a variety of angles and over a period of time, by many news agencies in New Zealand, includingNewshub. The complainant has singled out this story, exclusive to Newshub, which added another angle.

10. The story was based on sources which the reporter wishes to protect, which her employer, Mediaworks, states were verified. The political editor also says that the report of a last minute buyout request was put directly to the Minister of Finance and that his response was as reported. The headline was based on the most newsworthy element in the story.

11.In stories which rely on undisclosed sources, the Council considers it good practice to provide context or a reason for not disclosing those sources such as “… an employee who wished to remain anonymous said…”. This gives the reader some indication of the reliability of the source.

12. We urge Newshub to ensure that its complaint procedure is easy for the public to access.

13. The Council can find no breach of the Principles and the complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon. Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Pravina Singh, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.