ROTORUA LAKES COUNCIL AGAINST ROTORUA DAILY POST
Case Number: 2654
Council Meeting: MARCH 2018
Verdict: Not Upheld
Publication: Daily Post
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
1. Craig Tiriana, representing the Rotorua Lakes Council (RLC) complains on behalf of the Council about an article published in theRotorua Daily Post on December 15, 2017. He is of the view that the article breaches Press Council principle 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance). He also raises issues which effectively amount to a complaint of a breach of Principle 4 (comment and fact).
2. The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.
3. On December 15, 2017, the Rotorua Daily Post published a report of a protest hikoi directed at the RLC. The hikoi was a joint protest between those concerned about the Council’s decision to outsource management of its Aquatic Centre and those affected by a pay dispute between the Council and Infracore staff.
4. The main article was headed “Protesters locked out of Council after march” and appeared on pages 2 and 3 of the publication. A further headline “Protesters locked out” along with photographs and the first paragraph of the article appeared on the front page.
5. On 11 January 2018, after a complaint from the RLC, the Rotorua Daily Post published a three-paragraph clarification of the December 15 article.
6. Mr Tiriana complains that the article was inaccurate, unfair and unbalanced and that while theRotorua Daily Post had since addressed some parts of the complaint, the clarification failed to clarify all matters of concern or to address the factually incorrect “pointer” on the front page. He considered this last issue needed a correction rather than a clarification.
7. In the original complaint to the Rotorua Daily Post, Mr Tiriana supplied an extensive analysis of the article, complaining about 11 identified paragraphs as well as the article as a whole. He said that four paragraphs were factually inaccurate and the remainder (also two of the four “factually inaccurate” paragraphs) demonstrated unfairness and a lack of balance, particularly in stating opinions as facts or in failing to mention counterbalancing information.
8. In his later complaint to the Press Council, after discussions with Scott Inglis, editor of theRotorua Daily Post, and after publication of the clarification, Mr Tiriana went over the detail of the complaint and submitted that fairness and balance in reporting “is not achieved simply by presenting both sides – story construction matters”There were only three paragraphs from the RLC perspective in the first 31 paragraphs of the article with most of the Council comment at the end of the article.
9. Mr Inglis’ response to the initial complaint addressed Mr Tiriana’s points in some detail.He arranged the removal of one paragraph from the article and offered to publish a RLC statement addressing its content. He also agreed to publish a clarification which addressed:
- A statement that the RLC had refused to accept a petition – the mayor and chief executive had been prepared to meet with a delegation from the hikoi.
- A statement that no one was allowed in or out of the RLC building – only members of the hikoi were excluded.
- A statement that the RLC went straight into the confidential section of its meeting – the meeting followed the normal agenda and a public session preceded the confidential section.
10. In general, however, Mr Inglis considered the article to be fair and balanced. He did not consider it necessary to achieve balance by putting every point made by the RLC or the union representatives to the other side for comment and he was of the view that, either directly or by implication, all comments and opinions reported were clearly identified as such and were not presented as fact.
11. In responding the Press Council, Mr Inglis confirmed his view that any substance in the complaint had been addressed by publication of the clarification. He disagreed with Mr Tiriana’s assertion that the RLC response should have been “scattered throughout” the article and said it was not unusual to group responses together in the second part of the story.
12. It is clear that the issues that led to the hikoi were ones on which strong opinions were held, and in the Press Council’s view, the emotion generated as a result has to some extent coloured this complaint. It can see no lack of balance in the article.It accepts that a substantial part of the RLC views is reported towards the end of the article, but this is a result of the structure of article, with the report on the hikoi itself and contemporaneous comment at the start and quite extensive reporting of subsequent comment afterwards. There is a natural flow which is probably more likely to maintain a reader’s interest. Important points from the RLC viewpoint, such as the offer to meet a delegation of protesters, are appropriately positioned in the early part of the article.
13. Mr Tiriana also complains about a lack of detail in describing, for example, the nature of the dispute with Infracore staff.It is not usually practical to cover every aspect of a dispute in the confines of a news article, and it is reasonably clear that there had been previous and more detailed reports on the issue. The Press Council does not consider that balance requires the explanation of every detail of a dispute whenever a report on it is published.In any case, the report in this case was of the hikoi and events around it. The reason for the hikoi was background information and was adequately summarised.
14. The main complaint of inaccuracy concerns the headline “Protesters locked out” and the subsequent statement that the RLC refused to accept a petition. In the view of the Press Council the headline accurately reflects a key point of the article.By far the majority of protesters were shut out of the RLC building, and as the organisers did not accept the offer of a meeting between a small delegation and the Mayor and chief executive, none actually entered the building. There may be a minor ambiguity in the statement that the RLC refused to accept the petition, given that Council representatives were prepared to meet a small delegation but that no protesters were to be admitted to the Council meeting, but this ambiguity, if it exists, is more than adequately addressed by the subsequent clarification.
15. Several of the points raised by Mr Tiriana are about reported statements by hikoi participants where he considers there were unchallenged inaccuracies. However the content of these statements was not presented as fact but as the opinion of the speaker. They are direct quotes from protesters or from RLC representatives.The Press Council can find no evidence in the article of opinion being presented as fact.
The complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.