Case Number: 2630

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2017

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage


1. TVNZ complains that an article published in the The Weekend Herald on August 5, 2017 breached the principles of “accuracy, fairness and balance”, and “confidentiality”.

The Article

2. On the front page of the relevant Weekend Herald is a “goodie box” promo stating, ‘Hilary and Simon’s new gig, A3’ with photographs of Hilary Barry and Simon Dallow. The article itself, on page A3, is headlined ‘Pair tipped to host election night for TV1’. The article states that Hilary Barry and Simon Dallow are tipped to host 1 News’ 2017 election night special. It goes on to say this information came from sources, and stated that they would be leading the coverage with other TVNZ stars, including Newstalk ZB’s host, Mike Hosking. It notes that TVNZ was tight-lipped about the election night line-up. The article continued — and this is the portion that TVNZ takes particular exception to:

The speculation about Barry and Dallow hosting the election night coverage comes on the heels of talk in the industry that the network is testing the pair's on-screen chemistry, raising the prospect that they could host the prime time 6pm bulletin together.

Barry, who worked in several reporting and presenting positions for rival broadcaster MediaWorks for 23 years before joining TVNZ in August 2016, currently co-hostsBreakfast with 1 News’ former US correspondent Jack Tame, while Dallow fronts the 6pm news alongside Wendy Petrie.

In July, TVNZ’s head of news and current affairs John Gillespie poured cold water on claims Barry may take over from Petrie as the female prime time anchor, emphatically denying major changes were planned forBreakfast and Seven Sharp.

3. The next paragraph gives TVNZ’s rejection of this speculation, and then continues that it is understood that meetings were held to discuss a Breakfast reboot because of strong competition from Mediaworks rival, The AM Show. It then sets out the relevant Nielsen figures for The AM Show and Breakfast, and concludes by stating that a spokeswoman for TVNZ reiterated Gillespie’s statements when asked whether Barry would host the 6 p.m. news.

The Complaint

4. In its lengthy complaint, TVNZ alleges breaches of the principles set out above. TVNZ maintains that it is incongruous with the Press Council principles of accuracy and balance for NZME publications to repeat allegations that Hilary Barry will move to the 6 p.m. bulletin in the face of TVNZ’s categorical denials. It goes on to say that if what NZME has published here, and we assume in earlier editions, is accepted it would mean the news media could publish any fabricated claim, provided an emphatic denial was also published, and thereby achieve balance. It is said this undermines the public interest inherent in preserving the media’s right to freedom. There is also reliance on the confidentiality principle which requires the media to “to take reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that such sources are well informed and that the information they provide is reliable.”

The Response

5. The editor of the Weekend Herald strongly rejects that the article in any way breached Press Council principles. She stated the “goodie box” on the front page is not misleading, and nor is the headline that Barry and Dallow were tipped to host election night TV. In relation to the paragraph starting with “The speculation…”, the editor stresses the use of the terms “speculation” and “talk in the industry”. As to meetings relating to the reboot of Breakfast, the editor states that the publication’s sources provided information and they stood by it. It goes further, and states that they have been told by several different sources that there continues to be a focus on “Breakfast’s performance”.

6. The editor goes on to state that, contrary to the TVNZ allegation, the story does not overplay the extent of Barry and Dallow’s involvement in TVNZ’s election coverage.

The Discussion

7. All modern media appears to have a cult of personality whereby it promotes presenters and others to what is commonly called ‘celebrity status’. Almost inexorably speculation follows celebrity.

8. The focus of the story is that Barry and Dallow will head up TVNZ election coverage. It also reports on industry speculation regarding Barry’s ongoing role at TVNZ. There is a reference to sources which demonstrates that NZME have adopted proper journalistic practice of having more than one source.

9. First, TVNZ complains about the use and accuracy of sources. Yet, the published story (based on sources) regarding the fact that Barry and Dallow would be part of the presentation team for the election coverage, proved to be correct. The story also makes clear that Mike Hosking would also be involved in the election coverage. Secondly, we are satisfied the alleged failure of accuracy, fairness and balance does not exist. When one reads the story, it first makes it plain that the “speculation” about Barry and Dallow hosting election night comes on the heels of industry talk of testing their on-screen chemistry. It is industry speculation that is being reported on. Nothing has been put before us to show this is industry speculation does not exist. Thirdly, as to Barry co-presenting the 6 p.m. news with Dallow, it is also stated to be “widespread speculation”. Again nothing is put before us to suggest this speculation does not exist within the industry. This is immediately followed with the necessary balance reporting the comments of the TVNZ head of news and current affairs. It is certainly not a case, as TVNZ complains, that NZME cannot continue to repeat allegations that Barry will move to the 6 p.m. bulletin simply because of denials by TVNZ. Already, the speculation about election coverage has proved to be correct. In any event, it is perfectly proper for theWeekend Herald to report on speculation within media circles of Barry’s long-term role at TVNZ. Quite clearly the categorical denials from TVNZ have not stopped speculation within the industry, and that is what the story is reporting on.

10.TVNZ in its complaint seems to suggest that if continued categorical denials are made they need to be accepted. If this indeed is the intent of paragraph 4 of the complaint it strikes the Council as unusual, particularly from a complainant part of whose business is reporting on news. The history of journalism is replete with stories being shown to be true despite a history of categorical denials.

11. We are also satisfied that NZME has used multiple sources and has complied with the provisions of our Confidentiality principle.

12. TVNZ falls well short of demonstrating breaches of the two principles, and the complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Jenny Farrell, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Christina Tay.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


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