Case Number: 3485

Council Meeting: February 2024

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: National Business Review

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters
Headlines and Captions

Ruling Categories: Bias
Columnists Opinion
Defamation/Damaging To Reputation
Unfair Coverage


  1. PMG Funds complained under Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Principle (4) Comment and Fact, Principle (5) Columns, Blogs, Opinions and Letters, Principle (6) Headlines and Captions, and Principle (12) Corrections about an article published by the National Business Review (NBR) headed Rubbish real estate funds a hard habit to break. The complaint is not upheld.

The Article

  1. NBR published a story on 8 December 2023 with the headline Rubbish real estate funds a hard habit to break and a sub-heading ANALYSIS: An investor’s cautionary tale highlights the dangers of unlisted property.  It was labelled “Hunter’s Corner", which is a regular column written by Tim Hunter. The column began: “Unlisted property funds are the cancer sticks of the investment world. They are unnecessary, bad for our financial health and best avoided, yet they linger on as anachronistic parasites clinging to the needs of a dying breed.” 
  2. It set out the case of an investor, labelled Mr A, who had put $500,000 in the PMG Generation Fund in 2021. The Generation Fund was described in its Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) as a long-term investment with units that were not saleable on any established market, the story said. Mr A was now in his late 70s and had cancer. He wanted his money out but this was not possible. As a result of the situation, PMG had established a hardship policy, but it was unclear if Mr A would qualify. This was all perfectly legal and PMG was within its rights to refuse withdrawals, the story said. 
  3. However, this “nasty situation” illustrated that “the PMG fund is a rubbish product” and there were investors like Mr A, who did not realise this. 
  4. The column set out the background to the PMG Generation Fund, its portfolio, debt levels and fees paid to the manager. Like many property funds it had suffered a decline in value recently. “As it stands, there is no ability for investors to realise their investment in the PMG fund unless they can find a buyer for their stock through PMG’s facilitation service – and these are few and far between,” the story said. 
  5. It also looked at the marketing of the fund. Mr A claimed he was assured he would be able to sell easily on the secondary market. This was a grey area, the story said. “Did PMG provide misleading information about its sale facility? Or did Mr A misunderstand the information he was given?”

The Complaint

  1. In its initial complaint to NBR, PMG Funds said the story contained inaccuracies, was unbalanced and defamatory. The heading, and the photo caption, “Unlisted property funds – the cancer sticks of the investment world” were particularly inaccurate, unbalanced and unfair.
  2. In omitting information PMG Funds had supplied to Mr Hunter, the article gave an unbalanced view of PMG Generation Fund, the company’s actions and the unlisted property funds sector. Mr Hunter’s personal opinions were conveyed as facts. 
  3. The article misrepresented the situation of the investor Mr A, PMG Funds said. It failed to report that Mr A had initially cited injury as a reason for wanting to sell his units, not terminal illness or the desire to secure a retirement village unit. It failed to report that the company had been actively working with Mr A, and contrary to the impression that they were unresponsive to his plight, had taken steps to establish a hardship process. It did not mention that the process had stalled because Mr A had not completed the necessary paperwork. He had also chosen not to use internal or external dispute resolution services. 
  4. PMG Funds particularly objected to the comparison of the fund to “cancer sticks” and “rubbish”. This was Mr Hunter’s opinion, yet it was presented as fact. It overlooked fundamental differences between listed and unlisted property funds including lower volatility and direct exposure to the property market. It disregarded information in the PDS on the long-term nature and liquidity aspects of the fund, as well as the historic performance of PMG's funds over the past 30 years.
  5. The article's statements about the sale facilitation service and the fund's liquidity were also misleading and selectively presented facts. The company followed a legally approved process when redeeming units. “PMG’s service matches willing buyers with sellers, with market interest dictating liquidity. The omission of $26.7 million worth of trades (at net tangible asset value) in the 12 months to 1 December 2023 demonstrates a selective presentation of facts,” PMG Funds said.
  6. PMG Funds asked that the story be removed and NBR publish an acknowledgement of what they saw as the article’s inaccuracies and misrepresentation of the company’s actions. 
  7. In their final comment, PMG Funds said they had been operating for 30 years, they operated under FMA license and could not have survived and grown had their funds been “rubbish” or their behaviour anything but fair and transparent. Like all investment products, theirs were not without risk and had specific characteristics, which were clearly articulated to investors.
  8. NBR’s position was that they did not like unlisted property funds as an investment product due to their illiquidity, PMG Funds said. Mr Hunter’s byline is senior journalist, the column was marked “analysis” and the publication promoted itself as “The Authority”. With this came a responsibility to ensure clear presentation of the facts, PMG Funds said. To fit his narrative, Mr Hunter had been selective in the use of information provided by PMG Funds, while taking at face value the word of an anonymous individual experiencing anxiety and ill-health.

The Response

  1. NBR stood by the article, saying it was fair, balanced, correct and did not mislead readers. The subject was a matter of public interest, and PMG Funds’ request to remove the article was an attempt to curtail the
  2. media’s freedom of expression. The article accurately reflected Mr A’s situation. PMG Funds said in their complaint that Mr A initially said he wanted to redeem his investment because of a personal injury, but neither PMG Funds nor Mr A said this to the journalist. 
  3. PMG Funds said the article had failed to report that they had been working with Mr A to resolve his need for capital. NBR responded that the story said that because of Mr A’s situation PMG Funds had established a hardship process. Had NBR gone into details about the hardship process it was likely they would have been highly critical of it, they said. Although PMG Funds said the policy was based on KiwiSaver hardship withdrawals, the documentation required was much more onerous and Mr A found the burden of the paperwork highly distressing. The point of the article was to look at whether the fund’s characteristics made for a good investment. Mr A’s situation was an example of how the illiquidity of the fund caused difficulties for investors. 
  4. As to PMG’s claim that the article’s comparison of unlisted property funds to “cancer sticks” and “rubbish” reflected Mr Hunter’s personal opinion of the sector presented as fact, NBR said the Hunter’s Corner column had been run for eight years, representing Mr Hunter’s views. It was clearly marked as analysis. “The characterisation of the PMG fund as rubbish was an accurate reflection of Mr Hunter’s rigorous analysis on it, backed by research, and was supported in the column by comment on its lack of liquidity.”
  5. PMG Funds said the article overlooked the fundamental difference between listed and unlisted property funds, but NBR countered that the story mentioned the PDS statements on its long-term nature and lack of liquidity. The column’s purpose was to analyse and comment on an issue that affects investors and this is what the article did. 
  6. PMG Funds had complained that the omission of $26.7m of trades in 12 months to December 2023 demonstrated selective presentation of facts, but NBR said the company had not fully answered the questions put to it about this. “Therefore, the figure was omitted to avoid being misleading, because PMG itself had offered a selective presentation of facts rather than answering the question asked,” said NBR.
  7. The question asked by NBR was: “It appears from Generation fund PDS documents and financial statements that related party funds trade units in the Generation fund on the secondary market, although the numbers in the financial statements and the PDS documents do not correspond. It appears in the year to March 2023 the related parties were net sellers of Generation fund stock. Can you confirm the actual numbers on the related party trades and whether these funds traded, like other investors, on the secondary market facilitated by PMG?”
  8. The information provided from PMG to NBR said: “From February 2022 to 31 March 2023, PMG facilitated $27.4m of secondary trades in PMG Generation Fund. I can confirm any related party was and continues to be treated equally alongside all investors.”
  9. NBR also said the heading and photo caption accurately described the premise of the article and were not inaccurate, lacking in balance, unfair or defamatory.

The Discussion

  1. PMG complained under Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Principle (4) Comment and Fact, Principle (5) Columns, Blogs, Opinions and Letters, Principle (6) Headlines and Captions, and Principle (12) Corrections.
  2. The Council considers the article is clearly a column, as set out in Principle (5) and believes that the requirements to indicate this have been met. The column was marked analysis, and headed Hunter’s Corner”, which has been a long-standing column. This allows the robust expression of opinion, although as Principle (5) states “requirements for a foundation of truth pertain”. Principle (5) also states that balance is not required for columns, but in this case the columnist made the extra effort of contacting PMG Funds for comment, adding facts that showed PMG Funds in a more positive light. While balance is not required in opinion pieces, in this case it made the column stronger and fairer.
  3. It is clear that the journalist had been in discussion with PMG Funds about the issues he was concerned about, although the Council does not know exactly what was asked and answered. Some aspects that were favourable to the company were included. The story made it clear that the PDS documents accurately described the sale process for the investment and its long-term nature. Although Mr A said he had been told he could easily realise his investment, NBR said it could not be sure whether Mr A had been given false information or had been confused. Regarding the matter of whether the story had shown the lengths PMG Funds had gone to help Mr A out of his predicament, the Council considers the article met its obligations, describing how the company had instigated a hardship policy. It was up to the journalist’s discretion how deeply they delved into the treatment of Mr A and the Council accepts NBR’s view that the story was focused on the pitfalls of this type of illiquid investment, rather than an in-depth look at the company’s response and processes.
  4. The question of whether the company’s views about the $27.4m in secondary trades should have been included is more difficult to determine. Having examined the question and response given by PMG, it does seem the company could have offered a more comprehensive response. On balance, the Council accepts NBR acted reasonably in not including that information, as it was concerned it might be misleading. Perhaps the story could have included more information about PMG Funds’ performance over 30 years, as suggested by the complainant, but the Council accepts that NBR was particularly focused on the problems that could result because it was difficult or impossible to gain access to funds that were invested if they were needed. The journalist saw this as a fatal flaw with the investment, and it is his right to express his opinion on that.
  5. The heading and caption accurately represent the substance of the story, so the complaint under Principle (6) is not upheld. 
  6. In summary, the Council can find no factual inaccuracies and believes the column has presented a number of pieces of information that are favourable to the complainant – for example, the fact that its illiquidity is fully set out in the PDS documents, and that the company had made attempts to assist Mr A, even though, as the story pointed out, they were quite within their rights to refuse withdrawals. The column was forthright, but that is its purpose and it was clearly shown to be the opinion of the writer. It is in the public interest that commentators can write robustly on important topics, such as personal investment, and point out pitfalls as they see them. It is the journalist’s view that this is a “rubbish” investment because of its lack of liquidity, but it was presented as his opinion, and others might draw a different conclusion.
  7. Decision: The complaint is not upheld under any of the Media Council Principles nominated. 

Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Alison Thom, Ben France-Hudson, Clio Francis, Hank Schouten, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, Marie Shroff, Rosemary Barraclough, Richard Pamatatau, Scott Inglis and Tim Watkin.


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