W P MC KERROW AGAINST OTAGO DAILY TIMES

A complaint to the New Zealand Press Council from a candidate for the recent Otago Regional Council election, against the Otago Daily Times has not been upheld.

Mr W.P.McKerrow complained that an article published on 25 September - about the same time that postal ballot papers for local body elections were sent to voters - was ill-informed, biased and had damaged his chances on election. The article was written by the paper’s regional council specialist and in it, he ventured his views on who stood the best chance.

Mr McKerrow was one of 10 candidates standing for two vacancies in the Moeraki constituency. He took special exception to the sentence.. “One common view in North Otago is that there are four serious candidates: ” and it went on to name four candidates.

Neither Mr McKerrow nor five other candidates were mentioned. The following day he complained in a letter to the editor. In that, and in other correspondence with the paper over the following week, he contended the article was ill-informed, biased and had damaged his chances of election. He had had a 21-year track record in Waitaki local government - on the county and district councils - and on the Waitaki High School Board of Governors.

The initial response of the editor was to say he would be watching the election results closely. The article was written by the regional council reporter and the credibility of such writers rested on how well they did their jobs.

Mr McKerrow complained again and the editor invited him to write a letter which was published.

The Press Council agreed with the editor that it is legitimate journalistic practice for a specialist reporter to speculate on the outcome of an election. It is also legitimate to speculate on who the front runners might be and to omit others. But it is also incumbent on writers to use language carefully. Saying there are “four serious
contenders” is ambiguous and it is not surprising it created unhappiness among earnest candidates.

Writers must be mindful that such reports can influence voting and that they must be well-founded. Unless a writer feels secure in the basis for his or her view, it might be better to advance none, in the interests of fairness and of their own credibility.

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