THE YMCA AGAINST THE EVENING POSTThe Press Council has not upheld a complaint that articles in the Evening Post about a training course conducted by the YMCA had misrepresented that organisation’s position.
On 2 September, the Evening Post published an article by Tom Cardy, its welfare reporter, in which he recounted the experiences of Cardy Wilson, a 17 year old, who had signed up for a course under the Training Opportunities Programme run by the YMCA on behalf of ETSA, the Education and Training Support Agency. According to Mr Wilson, the course provided for 30 hours a week of training in retail job skills, but most of the time was spent singing Maori songs and playing games because the trainees could not find their tutor. There were, he said, long lunch periods, free Fridays, and training occupied only about 16 hours a week.
The article then outlined a response by the Wellington manager of ETSA. He acknowledged that there was a weakness in the programme in that trainees were left unsupervised and could have played games. But he rejected the other criticisms. Fridays were free only for those who had finished their work or were completing projects. The singing was part of a four hour Maori culture component designed to assist dignity and self-esteem for the Maori trainees and to give cultural training to non-Maori.
On 5 September, in a further article, Mr Cardy reported an exchange of opinions between Mr Wilson and Mr Garth Baker, the YMCA’s executive director. According to Mr Baker, all trainees had work to do when left unsupervised and the tutor was available in the next room. He questioned Mr Wilson’s attitude, saying that he had completed only one of the work units sat during the course. He said that Mr Wilson had twice rated the course as excellent.
But Mr Wilson said that he had completed all the work he was asked to do and that he and other trainees had turned to play because they could not find the tutor.
It was against this background that Mr Baker complained to the Press Council that the articles misrepresented his organisation in a variety of ways. The assertion that the students had been left unsupervised, set up the inference that the YMCA was not delivering the training it had been contracted to provide.. However, he asserted, the Evening Post reporter had been told that when Harland Wilson and other trainees had been unsupervised, they had been set work to carry out. This was in accordance with the policy of training students as responsible, adult learners, which was what ETSA had required. If instead of going initially to ETSA the reporter had come to the YMCA, he would have been comprehensively informed about the methodology of the course and able to present a balanced view. Through omissions, the articles had maligned his organisation’s ability to deliver training and had damaged its professional reputation.
The Evening Post replied that its reporter’s recollections of what was said about work being set for unsupervised trainees, differed from those of the YMCA. In any case, it could be inferred that, whatever work had been set the students, it was not enough to keep them occupied. The Post had spoken first to ETSA because it was the agency which was paying for the course. But it had also covered the YMCA’s responses and so had provided balanced coverage of all the matters at issue in the second article on 5 September.
During the Press Council’s discussion of the complaint, the YMCA’s concern over the content of the articles was acknowledged. But the Council did not find them seriously at fault in any respect ,or at variance with accepted journalistic standards. It was true, that, in view of its responsibility for training, the YMCA was best placed to explain its approach and reply to its criticisms. But in the Council’s view the newspaper’s explanation of its decision to seek initial comments from ETSA was reasonable. And the Evening Post did not delay in giving the YMCA the opportunity to give its own explanations and point of view. On the evidence before it, the Press Council was not in a position to assess the precise extent of the reporter’s understanding of the basis on which work was set for trainees. Overall, however, the Council felt that the coverage was fair. It did not uphold the complaint.
Neither Ms Suzanne Carty, editor of the Evening Post nor the newspaper’s political editor Mr Brent Edwards, each a member of the Press Council, was present at the meeting when the complaint was considered.