TE AUTE COLLEGE AGAINST HAWKE'S BAY HERALD TRIBUNE

The New Zealand Press Council upholds a complaint from the principal of Te Aute College, Darrell Waiti, against the Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune.

The complaint relates to a report in the newspaper on 26 November 1997, about the dux of Te Aute College. The Herald-Tribune was contacted by the dux’s mother who made a number of claims about the treatment of her son by the College after an illness that resulted in his hosptalisation. The son had left hospital and attempted to return to residence at the school, instead of returning to his home.

The newspaper attempted to put her claims to Mr Waiti by telephone, but he declined to respond verbally and asked that they be put in writing. His response was sent by fax within a reasonable time of receiving the questions and received by the paper close to its deadline. The Herald-Tribune appended some of the principal’s comments to the bottom of the mother’s claim but, printed on 27 November, the following day, a fuller
account.

Mr Waiti’s complaint fell into two parts: he was uphappy at the manner in which the reporter requested verbal responses to the allegations made, and was uphappy at the way his responses were treated by the paper in its report published on 26 November.

He said the article was not a full and accurate account, that the paper didn’t bother to ascertain the facts on four important issues and that the reporter failed to act professionally.

In response the associate editor of the Herald-Tribune defended the paper’s actions. He said the mother of Te Aute College’s dux contacted the newspaper to complain at the school’s treatment of her son. The paper had then phoned Mr Waiti for comment and, when he declined to answer by phone, faxed him questions. Answers were received very close to the paper’s deadline. Despite that, the newspaper had managed to include the main points of Mr Waiti’s response at the end of its report.

The Council upheld Mr Waiti’s complaint. While it understood the tight deadlines under which afternoon papers must operate, the deadlines themselves created circumstances that were problems for the paper, not for the public. Having sought and received responses to the allegations made by a mother, the Herald-Tribune should have made greater efforts to incorporate them into its report.

Given the serious nature of the charges levelled against the College using language that emphasised that seriousness, the newspaper had a duty to handle the issue carefully. There was nothing in the story, for example, that made it imperative that the claims had to be published on the day the Herald-Tribune received them. In the Council’s view, nothing would have been lost if the paper had waited a day to publish a fairer, fuller and more carefully checked account of the mother’s claims.

The Council also takes the opportunity to remind newspapers of its belief that, when they report controversial issues, it is advisable to carry high in news reports any balancing comment by people opposed to the allegations made. To append such comment to the end of articles risked readers missing it altogether, as the Council accepts not all readers read every news report through to its conclusion.

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