R TEPPETT AGAINST MANAWATU EVENING STANDARD

The New Zealand Press Council has not upheld a complaint by an employee of the Children and Young Persons and Their Families Service in Palmerston North over publication of his name when he says he requested anonymity when giving information to a reporter from the Evening Standard.

CYPS staff across New Zealand went on strike for 24 hours on 23 October 1997 protesting at contract negotiation problems with management. The Evening Standard covered the strike and on 23 October published a story that was sourced from Palmerston North CYPS office staff “who could not be named” as stated in the article. The main thrust of the article concerned employees’ complaints about a sharp rise in workload and insufficiency of government funding. On 24 October the Evening Standard ran a follow-up story reporting that more than 20 Palmerston North CYPS staff had been suspended the day before for taking “low level” industrial action. Suspensions in other centres were also mentioned. The second article had a different focus from the one the day before in that it was about industrial action and its effects rather than the causes for industrial action. Staff PSA spokesperson, Mr Rob Teppett had his comments reported on why staff were suspended and the practical effects of carrying out emergency work whilst suspended.

Mr Teppett complained to the Press Council that when he spoke with the newspaper reporter he asked for anonymity at all times. He had made it clear to the reporter than anonymity was important because under the CYPS employee Code of Conduct talking to the media is forbidden. In the article on 23 October about the conditions that caused the industrial action nobody was named, but for the article the following day by a different reporter Mr Teppett was mentioned by name and as a PSA spokesperson.

The newspaper was alerted by the journalist who had written the article on 23 October that, because of the CYPS Code of Conduct, naming any source could jeopardise an employee’s job . The editor’s reply was to emphasise the different nature of the two stories published in successive days. The editor said, “Mr Teppett was speaking (for the 24 October article) as the easily identifiable staff-elected PSA representative at the conclusion of industrial action.” Mr Teppett claimed “at no stage was permission sought to publish my name.” The Evening Standard also claimed that Mr Teppett had
been named on a radio broadcast on 24 October. Mr Teppett provided transcripts of the radio news broadcast which clearly showed his name was not mentioned. The Evening Standard has been made aware of this and has not acknowledged the error.

After a careful appraisal of the case during which opinion among council members was sharply divided, it was decided not to uphold the complaint. It was agreed that the complainant had been given anonymity on the central issue of causes for industrial action but on the much narrower and subsidiary story about the industrial action itself had been named as a staff spokesperson which was not uncommon. Some members however held that since anonymity had clearly been an important issue for Mr Teppett, the newspaper would have been on more secure ground had it taken the precaution of referring back to him before naming the person. That it did not do this did not, in the opinion of a majority of council members, justify upholding the complaint.

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