The Complaint
The Taupo District Council’s complaint against Taupo and Turangi Weekender related to a front-page article, headlined Fired-up chief quits, published on December 11, 2014, which reported on a controversy between the Council and the Omori Volunteer Rural Fire Force.
The article followed the removal of a number of hoses from the Omori fire truck after they had been inspected and tested for the Council, an action which the Omori volunteer fire chief was reported as saying had been done without explanation and which he claimed would affect the Rural Fire Force’s capacity to act as a first response to building or house fires until the urban firefighters from Taupo or Turangi could get to the scene. The article was illustrated with a photograph of the fire truck showing empty compartments where the hoses which had been removed had been housed.

The Taupo Council’s view was that the article and photograph, with its caption, seriously breached the Press Council’s principle of accuracy, balance and fairness by focusing on the removed hoses, four out of six of which failed to pass their test, rather than the equipment as a whole. In a subsequent addition to their complaint the Council contended that a further Press Council principle had been infringed in that subterfuge had been used in the preparation of the article as permission had not been sought or given for the photograph to be taken on the site which was Taupo Council property. Subterfuge was also used, the Council claimed, in that the story ‘was never shown to the Council in its draft entirety prior to going to press’,

The Newspaper Response
In responding to the complaints the editor expressed her belief that the principles of the Press Council had in both cases been adhered to. The photograph showed the vehicle as it had been after the hoses were removed – the fact that a cardboard carton subsequently placed in one of the gaps had been taken out for the photograph did not, she suggested, somehow infringe the principles of accuracy, balance and fairness.

To the further complaint, arguing subterfuge in taking the photograph without permission, she responded that ‘the journalist did seek permission from and was accompanied onto the site by the Acting Rural Fire Force Chief’ and that given his position it was ‘reasonable for her to assume that his permission was sufficient’.

The article, on a subject of importance to members of the paper’s community, is clear and straightforward. While there could be differing views on the reasons for what appears to be a simmering dispute between the Volunteer Fire Force and the Taupo District Council and the article does not probe these, it is difficult to see it as inaccurate, unfair or unbalanced.

In addition to Council comment in the article the Press Council notes that the newspaper, in its next issue, provided generous space for a representative of the Council to comment on the issues. This would seem to run counter to such an argument. The paper’s response to the suggestion that the photograph was ‘staged’ clearly explains what was done and in that light the caption seems quite unexceptionable.

Similarly, their explanation of how they sought and were given permission to enter the site where the truck was parked – an explanation which the council spokesperson does not refer to or comment on – makes it difficult to sustain a suggestion of subterfuge.

The Press Council does not accept that draft articles must been shown to those discussed in the article before publication.

The complaint of the Taupo District Council is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.


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