WILL MCKENZIE AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 3102
Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2021
Verdict: Not Upheld
Balance, Lack Of
Headlines and Captions
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
On 10 May 2021, Stuff published an article Man behind proposal for 18-lane Auckland Harbour Bridge seeks local board seat.The article describes how Will McKenzie, John Tamihere’s policy advisor in the 2019 Auckland mayoral election, contested a local board by-election. Mr McKenzie drew up plans to replace the Harbour Bridge with a two-level structure as part of the mayoral campaign.
The article then introduces light rail as an issue in the local board by-election and outlines the candidates’ views on transport. Mr McKenzie’s views on light rail are included.
Mr McKenzie complains about the accuracy of the headline, sub-heading, and opening paragraph of the 10 May 2021 article.
There are also three hyper-links to previous articles (dated 16 August 2019, 17 August 2019, and 28 August 2019) included in the current article.Mr McKenzie also complains about the accuracy of statements in these linked articles.
Mr McKenzie makes five points in which he believes there to be inaccuracies in the May 2021 article. First, he states that he has been misquoted in the statement that ‘he gained confidence in his ideas while working as John Tamihere’s policy advisor’. He accuses the reporter of misrepresenting his thoughts and asking leading questions.
Second, he complains that the use of the word “lane” in this sentence is inaccurate: “the man behind a proposal to upgrade Auckland’s Harbour Bridge into an 18-lane superstructure is running for local government” because it infers that the lanes referred to are for cars and as such that he wants the bridge to be significantly increased to that size which “would reasonably be, and was, considered ridiculous.”
Third, he complains that Stuff’s use of “superstructure” is inaccurate. He thinks that the proper usage of this word is to describe a structure built on top on another one and that Stuff’s usage in the sentence “the man behind a proposal to upgrade Auckland’s Harbour Bridge into an 18-lane superstructure is running for local government” misrepresents his proposal and uses the word inaccurately.
Fourth, he complains that the statement “the proposed structure, made up of 10 traffic lanes, four rail tracks and two cycleways and two walkways was widely criticised” is also inaccurate because the criticism of only two academics was included, neither of whom Mr McKenzie thinks is expert in a relevant field.
Finally, he complains that the statement “But McKenzie opposed the Dominion Rd tram option” is inaccurate, as he only opposes aspects of it.
Regarding the three hyper-linked articles from 2019 he complains that his Harbour Bridge proposal was misrepresented so that readers would believe that he wanted to upgrade the bridge to 18 lanes for cars, not for cyclists, rail and walkers, as he proposed.
Mr McKenzie took the opportunity to present his complaint in person at a Media Council meeting. In his presentation he outlined the personal and professional toll this issue has taken on him.
Stuff responds to the complaint against the headline being inaccurate stating that it is not in question that Mr McKenzie was behind a plan for 2019 mayoral campaign to expand the Harbour Bridge to 18 lanes for vehicles, trains, cyclists and pedestrians.
They refute the claim that readers would interpret lanes to be for cars only. Lanes are commonly used to describe those used for cycling and walking.
Regarding the use of “superstructure”, they contend that the use is accurate – a structure built on top of something else – as Mr McKenzie’s plan proposed that new lanes would be built on top of the bridge’s existing piers.
Regarding the statement asserting that his proposal was “widely criticised,” Stuff submits that this is a fair comment as the articles referenced in this complaint contain critiques from the Auckland Mayor and two engineering experts. In response at the time Stuff followed up by interviewing Mr McKenzie for the article Auckland mayoral election: John Tamihere’s policy man says his double-decker bridge plan is ‘no Trump Tower’ which was published in August 2019.
They also state that Mr McKenzie was given opportunity to respond to criticism of his plan in the 2021 article and his rebuttal was included in the 10 May 2021 article “But Mr McKenzie stands by his proposal, calling it Engineering 101.”As such, they argue that their reporting is fair and balanced.
Stuff reviewed the audio of the interview with Mr McKenzie and concluded that the statement about him gaining confidence in his ideas while working as a policy advisor for John Tamihere is correct.
They also contend that Mr McKenzie’s opposition to the Dominion Rd tram is not in question. Following representation from Mr McKenzie Stuff amended to state that his opposition was toaspects of the plans.
Following multiple engagements with Mr McKenzie, Stuff has made corrections on two other points in the May 2021 article: after reviewing the audio of his interview, they changed a quote in paragraph 5 from “Sometimes that can be combinations of other ideas that work that nobody has proposed before” to “Sometimes those are things that are combinations of other things that work that nobody’s proposed before”; and removed “by experts” in the line “was widely criticised” to acknowledge they had included the views of only two engineering experts.
The complaint is made under two Media Council Principles: Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Principle 6 Headlines and Captions.
Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance states that publications are bound to not deliberately mislead or misinform by commission or omission and in articles of controversy or disagreement, a fair voice must be given to the opposition view.
Carefully analysing Mr McKenzie’s points, the Media Council can see no evidence of a breach of this principle. The Media Council determines that the quote regarding gaining confidence as John Tamihere’s policy advisor is a fair representation of the audio transcript of the interview.
Stuff have not misled or misinformed readers through their use of “lanes” or “superstructure”. Dictionary definitions show that Stuff’s use of these words is justified, although the Council acknowledges that these word choices could create ambiguity. They have provided evidence that the proposal was “widely criticized.”
Further, that Mr McKenzie opposes at least aspects of the Dominion Rd tram is not in question.
Stuff have sought to provide balance interviewing Mr McKenzie for the 2021 article (and previously offering him a right of reply for the 2019 articles.)They have also engaged with him extensively over this complaint and made some minor changes.
Correspondingly, there is no breach of Principle 6 as there are no inaccuracies in the headline or sub-headline. Mr McKenzie is a man who proposed an 18 lane Harbour Bridge and who sought a local board seat.
Mr McKenzie’s complaints about the 2019 articles are effectively out-of-time, but Mr McKenzie invokes the part of the complaints procedure that allows complaints to be considered if an article remains uncorrected in the electronic version.
In the hyperlinked articles from 2019, Mayor Phil Goff is quoted dismissing the harbour bridge expansion plan because “widening the motorway at either end to match the 18 lanes would see massive demolition of buildings and destruction of homes and neighbourhoods. This will cost further billions of dollars that Auckland doesn’t have and the Government won’t pay for.”
This quote misrepresents Mr McKenzie’s plans for the Harbour Bridge however the articles include diagrams which clearly show the plans involve building lanes for people, cyclists, and trains above the current car lanes, not widening it.
It is clear from the articles that this is Mayor Goff’s misrepresentation not Stuff’s and they were entitled to publish it in the context of the Mayoral election campaign.
The Council finds there were no matters requiring correction in the 2019 articles.
The complaints are not upheld.
Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Sandy Gill, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff and Tim Watkin.