STEPHEN RICE AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALDStephen Rice complained about a report published on nzherald.co.nz at 9am on Friday 8 August, 2008. The three sentence news story concerned a Parliamentary Special train which was to terminate at Britomart later that day marking the centenary of a prior journey by MPs travelling from Wellington by steam train to greet the then-visiting American naval fleet.
The complaint is not upheld.
On October 10, 2008 Mr Rice complained to the editor of the New Zealand Herald that the news item was misleading as it implied the Parliamentary Steam train would be hauled into Britomart station and that the entire steam train would be available for inspection till 5pm on 8 August 2008. Mr Rice explained that this could not be the case as there are substantial problems with steam locomotives entering Britomart station as it is an enclosed space. He has been assured of this on a number of occasions by various Britomart staff. He further explained that there was a pre-arranged change of engine that took place at the Penrose station replacing the steam locomotive with a diesel locomotive to haul the train into Britomart station. He complained that the story was unchecked for factual accuracy before publication.
No response was forthcoming from the New Zealand Herald editor. On 1 November Mr Rice complained to the NZ Press Council using the online complaint form.
The Newspaper’s Response
The nzherald.co.nz publisher Jeremy Rees accepted that Mr Rice was correct and that the Parliamentary Special train travelled from Wellington to Auckland under steam but its steam engine was decoupled at Otahuhu and it entered Britomart hauled by a diesel locomotive. Mr Rees amended the story.
Mr Rice’s Response
On 2 January 2009 Mr Rice acknowledged Mr Rees’ willingness to amend the story and to acknowledge there was a factual error. He then asked what would Mr Rees have had to say to spectators who may have turned up at Britomart to see the steam locomotive haul the steam-train into Britomart.
Discussion and Decision
The information carried in this report was inaccurate. It is unfortunate when an error makes it into a news publication. It does happen that people are inconvenienced and sometimes this is of significant import. However, it is neither possible nor reasonable to expect that every fact of every story is checked prior to publication. There would be no news reporting if verification of every single fact had to occur. Some information must be taken on face value. The story was attributed to Newstalk ZB.
What is required of news organizations is that any complaints are addressed immediately and that errors are corrected as soon as possible. Mr Rice’s complaint was not made until two months following the publication of the incorrect information. It is unclear why the New Zealand Herald did not respond at that stage. However, unless Mr Rice had contacted nzherald.co.nz on the day of publication, and had the error corrected immediately, it would not have been possible to avert the potential for public inconvenience.
The complaint is therefore not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Beck, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Alan Samson and Lynn Scott.
John Gardner took no part in the consideration of this complaint.