ROB PATERSON AGAINST WAATEA NEWS

Case Number: 2838

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2019

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Waatea News

Ruling Categories: Accuracy

Overview

1. The complaint is that a story published by Waatea News on its website waateanews.com was inaccurate and that the publication had failed in its obligation to publish a correction.

Background

2. The Waatea News website published an item on August 9, 2019 headlined Hobson’s Pledge tries to roll Tauranga land return.It reported Tauranga historian Buddy Mikaere saying the local council needed to stand up to a campaign by Don Brash’s Hobson’s Pledgegroup trying to overturn a Tauranga City Council decision to return a block of land next to anhistoric mission station to Maori.

3. It also reported that the Hobson’s Pledge call for opposition led to hundreds of negative and racist submissions, many of which were anonymous.

The Complaint

4. On August 16, seven days after the item was published, Rob Paterson, chairman of Citizens Advocacy Tauranga Society Incorporated (CAT), wrote a letter complaining that the article was inaccurate and that Mr Mikaere’s statements were untrue and scurrilous. Mr Paterson said it was his group that was one of the main contributors to the numerous submissions made against the Tauranga City Council proposal. At no time, to his knowledge, had Dr Brash or Hobson’s Pledge supported the opposition groups and there had been no contact with Dr Brash or Hobson’s Pledge.

5. Mr Paterson also said Mr Mikaere was wrong to claim there were many anonymous submissions. He had checked and was not aware that any submissions were anonymous.

6. He asked Waatea News to have Mr Mikaere apologise for his untrue allegations and for the website to apologise for printing the untruths. It had failed to check the validity of Mr Mikaere’s claims and he demanded a retraction be posted on the site to “address the aspersions made on CAT and other submitters in opposition”.

The Response

7. Waatea News general manager Bernie O’Donnell responded on September 2, saying Waatea News had also been contacted by Dr Brash and accepted his denial Hobson’s Pledge was behind any organised campaign regarding the Elms. It agreed to post an amended story.

8. He acknowledged submissions facilitated by CAT required a name and the reference to anonymity was incorrect. However, he did not believe it was appropriate to demand an apology from Mr Mikaere. “We suggest you put this proposal to Mr Mikaere yourself.”

9. Mr O’Donnell said Waatea News would be happy to run a correction on its website that it was CAT rather than Hobson’s Pledge that organised opposition to the land proposal.

10. In subsequent correspondence with the Media Council Mr O’Donnell said that he was willing to publish a correction on the website on the lines of:

On August 8 Radio Waatea broadcast a story reporting Hobson’s Pledge had encouraged people to make submissions against aproposal to return land in Tauranga to a trust representing its original hapu owners. RadioWaatea accepts the assurance of Hobson’s Pledge spokesperson Don Brash his organisationwas not involved. A separate organisation, Citizens Advocacy Tauranga, produced a formwhich was used by many submitters. We accept Citizens Advocacy Tauranga should havebeen credited for promoting submissions against the proposed transfer. A decision on thetransfer was put off and must be considered by the newly elected council.

The Decision

11. The Media Council is concerned with the way Waatea News has dealt with this story and the subsequent complaint.

12. Firstly, the story was solely based on comment by Mr Mikaere and there was no indication that any checking was done before the item was published. At the very least a call could have been made to Hobson’s Pledge, and the submission process checked.

13. It appears Dr Brash was the first to point out that Hobson’s Pledge was not involved and while Mr O’Donnell said they agreed to post an amended story there is no information before the Media Council to confirm this was done.

14. Waatea News took more than two weeks to respond substantively to Mr Paterson’s complaint. Then, while acknowledging the errors in its story, it attempted to deflect its responsibility by suggesting the complainant should seek an apology from Mr Mikaere.

15. Editors are responsible for the content of their publications and significant errors should be corrected promptly.

16. In this case Waatea News fell way short of its journalistic obligations. It failed to check basic facts before publication, was slow to respond to complaints and it failed to publish a correction promptly when it knew mistakes had been made, and the story has still not been corrected.

17. Waatea News was in breach of Media Council Principle 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance) and Principle 12 (corrections). The complaint is upheld.

18. The Media Council expects this story to be corrected immediately.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.