A complaint by Trinette Tawse against the Manawatu Standard is not upheld.

In his editorial, dated 4 January 2010, editor Michael Cummings referred to what he headlined “Wacky logic in billboard bleat”. He described the action of Ms Tawse in buying a two-story high billboard in downtown Auckland to complain about her inability to access government financial support as an ‘absurdity’. “Someone must have slipped something into her chai latte that skewed her grip on reality,” he claimed.
The gist of the editorial was that the public should applaud WINZ for its stewardship of taxpayer money, because if Ms Tawse had properties, she should either live off the rental money from these or sell them to cover her own support. The taxpayer would pick up her support when she reached retirement age in due course.
Ms Tawse sent a strongly-worded letter by email to the editor on the same day that the editorial was published, stating that he “would be entitled to bleat if I hadn’t worked hard, you silly little man”. She stated her work background and the complaints she has about the difficulties that people over 50 find in obtaining work.
She said she could not afford to live in the home she owned because of the mortgage costs, and because she did not live in it, she was denied the benefit. She then listed various attempts she had made to obtain funding from WINZ and to find work, mainly unsuccessfully. She claimed that WINZ penalises hard work.

The Complaint
Ms Tawse, complaining to the Press Council, claimed that Mr Cummings should have approached her to check the accuracy of his article, which she claimed was based on a story that ran in the Sunday News. This, she claimed, was irresponsible, and she had had to spend money to run an advertisement in the paper to offset the claimed inaccuracy and fairness.
She claimed that the editorial defaulted in accuracy, fairness and balance; that it misled and misinformed, using omission and commission; did not fairly cover the substance of the story it was designed to cover, and obstructed public interest in information about WINZ policies and its implications, ‘as provided in the correspondent’s information’.
She concluded her complaint by claiming that the coverage of her story “shows a disgraceful irresponsibility and alarming unprofessionalism’.

The Newspaper’s Response
The editor stated that the paper had not replied to Ms Tawse’s original communication as it was not considered to be a complaint – it did not identify anything specific in the editorial that was factually inaccurate, was vitriolic in its tone and content, and did not specifically request a reply.
He noted that the piece was clearly marked in bold lettering as “opinion” and that the paper stood by its view that buying a two-storey high billboard to draw attention to money troubles is absurd.

Discussion and Decision
The crux of this complaint was the assertion by Ms Tawse that the paper should not have published its editorial without reference to her, and that she believed the editor should have acquainted himself with ‘the full story’ before publishing. The editor did not accept that perspective, arguing that the editorial was clearly an opinion piece.

The Press Council does not deem it reasonable for editors to have to check what a complainant refers to as ‘the full story’ before writing an editorial. An editorial is an opportunity for a newspaper to comment on an issue in the news and to express an opinion. Further, the Council did not accept that the information provided in the editorial was inaccurate

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Ruth Buddicom, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.


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