Case Number: 626

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 1996

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

An article published in the New Zealand Herald on 25 June on details in the Alliance’s 1996 Alternative Budget formed the basis of a complaint to the New Zealand Press Council by Ms Susan Healy. She claimed the newspaper had misrepresented key information. The complaint was not upheld.

The article was headlined “Low earners fare better in Alliance tax scheme,” and included two two tables. The complaint centred on the one headed “Alliance income tax scale.” Ms Healy complained the heading should have been “Alliance marginal tax rates.”

Ms Healy based her assertion on her mother’s (and some unidentified Radio Pacific callers) misunderstanding of the table. The press release from the Alliance had used the fuller heading and the misunderstandings arose because people thought the table related to average rates of tax.

In her letter to the newspaper Ms Healy said she agreed the text in the article was “a piece of clear and balanced journalism” but readers tended to read “visuals” before they read text. She requested a front page correction and clarification.

In his response to the Council the deputy editor of the Herald , Don Milne said in the newspaper’s view both the article and table were perfectly clear. No other complaint about it had been received. from readers, and significantly, nothing had been heard from the Alliance itself.

In the Council’s view while “marginal tax rate” may have been the more technically correct heading, the term is not universally understood and its use could have caused more confusion than it removed. The editor had both a right and a duty to publish information in a form to suit the majority of his readers. In this case the Council is satisfied the majority of readers would have had no difficulty with the table. The complaint is not upheld.

The former editor of the New Zealand Herald, Mr Peter Scherer, who is a member of the Press Council, was not present at the meeting of the Council when the complaint was considered.