SOUTHERN HEALTH AGAINST THE SOUTHLAND TIMES

Case Number: 631

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 1996

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Southland Times

A complaint by Southern Health against the Southland Times has not been upheld by the Press Council.

The complaint was about an article published in the newspaper on 24 July. The article “MPs Urge CHE To Get In Quickly” reported press releases by two local MPs, Crown Health Minister Bill English and Government Whip Eric Roy, about extra government funding for surgery by public hospitals.

The CHE said the article misrepresented the content, implication and tone of the press releases on which it was based by implying that Southern Health hadn’t done enough to get money from the Government’s new Waiting Times Fund and had to be pushed along by local MPs concerned for their constituents.

The CHE said Mr English’s statement had praised it - this was not mentioned in the newspaper report - and had gone on to say why further funds should be sought quickly. Southern Health was unhappy with the headline, said the report ignored the Minister’s praise of it, used words Mr English had not used, carried an incorrect quote, positioned the quote from Mr Roy in such a way that implied the CHE wasn’t taking action; and quoted CEO Anthea Green using words she had not used as well as implying she was reacting to the MPs’ concern. Further, the article had been run beneath another about the CHE; together, the impression was that it was not profitable.

Clive Lind, editor of the Southland Times, responding to the Press Council said the complaint should be judged on its facts, not on “implications.” After a statement from Southern Health on 18 July, which set out how Southlanders were among the first to benefit from the new fund, a report was published the next day. Messrs English and Roy then commented and their statements put to Southern Health whose communications manager doubted the CEO would say more than she had earlier.

The report was written and placed on a page below another about the CHE’s viability written from a statement made by Anthea Green. Mr Lind said both articles were fair, accurate and balanced accounts of matters relating to Southern Health. The heading had been accurate, the newspaper was under no obligation to print any or all of a press release, and Mr English’s praise was secondary to his message that more money was


available and should be sought. The article in dispute made it clear Southern Health had already got money from the Waiting Times Fund.

The Press Council found the article - with one exception - was a fair summary of the MPs’ statements which, themselves, used language which suggested Southern Health needed to take further action. If there was any implication the CHE hadn’t done enough, it came from the MPs, not the paper.

The Council did, however, find the paper had given the impression Anthea Green was responding to the MPs’ concerns. While the reporter’s assumption he had the OK to repeat her previous statement was probably understandable in the circumstances, the Council said it would have been wiser to have said the CHE was given the opportunity to comment, but had been referred to Ms Green’s earlier comments.