SEAN RUSH AGAINST NEWSROOM
Case Number: 3384
Council Meeting: MARCH 2023
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Obligation to Publish
On 10 February 2023, Newsroom published an article by Professor Rewi Newnham headed Shelly Bay primed for coastal flooding. It outlined Professor Newnham’s concerns about the 350-dwelling Wellington development going ahead, saying that by 2040 a 100-year coastal flooding event at Shelly Bay would be occurring every year. The article, which was labelled opinion, included information on sea level, tides, climatic conditions and changes to the coastline.
Sean Rush was a Wellington City Councillor at the time the decision to go ahead with the Shelly Bay development was made. He submitted a piece to Newsroom in response to Professor Newnham’s article, setting out his views on why the decision to go ahead was made. Newsroom declined to publish the piece saying it was too technical for Newsroom’s general audience and noting that there had been some debate in the comments section at the bottom of the article touching on some of the points Mr Rush had raised. Newsroom said they suspected the Shelly Bay story “has a long way to run, so we will keep you in mind for future stories”. Mr Rush complained to the Media Council that it was unfair that an academic could take “pot-shots” at the council’s decision without one of the decision-makers being afforded a right of reply.
The Media Council notes that the Shelly Bay development has been the subject of extensive debate over many years. This piece was clearly marked opinion and can be seen as another story in a long-running issue where balance can be achieved over time. The decision whether or not to publish an opposing opinion piece is the prerogative of the editor, who is free to decide what articles are best suited to Newsroom’s readership. The Council notes that there was some degree of balance provided by the comments that followed the article, and that Newsroom does not seem to have completely ruled out follow-up stories, saying they would keep Mr Rush in mind for future articles. No principles have been breached.
Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.