TOM REECE AGAINST THE PRESS

Case Number: 624

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 1996

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

The Press Council had rejected a complaint about treatment of the national qualifications framework by the Christchurch morning newspaper The Press.

A reader, Mr Tom Reece, who is also director of the Extractive Industries Training Organisation, alleged editorial bias by the newspaper on the subject.

Specifically, he claimed that The Press editorial perspective was failing to allow free and equal discussion on the framework (a system of unit standards in education and training) and thus ensuring that one antagonistic point of view and associated misrepresentations went unchallenged.

Mr Reece said the framework rarely featured in general articles on education or otherwise - as distinct from editorial and opinion columns; opinion columns on the matter originated almost exclusively from the University of Canterbury; and hostile editorials and opinion columns, plus letters to the editor printed had long outnumbered defensive or supporting counterparts.

Invariable, he said, one or more antagonistic articles appeared before a favourable perspective was carried; “It appears that The Press is soliciting articles to support [its] bias.”

Responding, the editor of the paper said it was unsubstantiated conjecture that the framework rarely featured in articles on general education or otherwise. And education-related articles, other than on the framework, had featured in opinion pages.

Not all articles submitted by Canterbury University sources had been published and none had been solicited from either side of the debate.

Editorial opinion had no bearing on choice for publication of other comment or opinion material, or of correspondence. If letters published ran five-to-one against the framework, added the editor, that merely reflected the balance of total letters received on the subject.

Resolving not to uphold the complaint, the Press Council noted a clear lack of evidence on some issues in dispute between the parties. News coverage, as such, ought


to be unbiased - and evidently so. Yet the material in question clearly covered most elements of a newspaper except news reporting - that is, leading articles, columns of comment or contributed opinion, and letters to the editor. Each such category explicitly constituted comment or opinion, the Council observed.

It added that, provided there was a proper respect therein for indisputable fact, the same obligation as attached to news coverage - to avoid incorporating prejudice - did not apply, much as some readers might prefer a synthetic symmetry of viewpoints.