WINSTON MORETON AGAINST THE GISBORNE HERALD
Case Number: 3448
Council Meeting: 25 SEPTEMBER 2023
Decision: Not Upheld
Publication: Gisborne Herald
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Ruling Categories: Misleading
- Winston Moreton complains that stories in The Gisborne Herald on 4 August 2023 could have led readers to think that the Gisborne Mayor had attended a meeting about the Ministerial Inquiry into Land use in Tairāwhiti and Wairoa. Mr Moreton complains under Media Council Principles (1) and (12) saying the coverage was misleading and required correction. The complaint is not upheld.
- On 4 August 2023, The Gisborne Herald published a front-page story headed Anger at Govt Plans, which covered the Government’s announcement that it supported the findings of the Ministerial Inquiry into Land use in Tairāwhiti and Wairoa, following cyclones Hale and Gabrielle. It reported that a 50-strong crowd gathered to hear Forestry Minister Peeni Henare, and there were some angry responses to his speech. Deputy Mayor Josh Wharehinga’s comments to the meeting were reported. The story said Environment Minister David Parker was scheduled to attend the meeting, however he returned home due to illness.
- On the same day, in a separate story on page four headed Collective effort needed, the paper reported Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz’s comments on the government’s response to the inquiry. It said she thanked the minister for his support and said central government’s commitment would be essential.
- Winston Moreton complains that the mayor’s absence from the meeting had been disguised and remained unreported, while the absence of Environment Minister David Parker was reported. Mr Moreton noted that the mayor’s absence should have been recorded, as the inquiry was a matter the mayor should have prioritised. The story that reported the mayor’s statement thanking the minister for his support was written in such a way as to mislead the public into thinking she was present at the meeting. Mr Moreton said that the paper should have stated the mayor’s statement was made in absentia. This was unbalanced misreporting and the newspaper had failed to publish a correction when he requested it
- The editor of The Gisborne Herald replied that the coverage of the event was the lead story on page one, turning to page three. There was no mention of the mayor in that story as she was not there, but the deputy mayor’s comments were reported as he was at the meeting. The Gisborne District Council response was published on a different page with other responses to the announcement. If the Media Council considered media releases should be clearly indicated as such, that would be useful guidance, as it was something he had considered but had not seen done by other media outlets. The editor said he had amended the online version of the story to make it clear that the mayor’s response came from a media statement. Mr Moreton said he thought the online amendment was inadequate as immediacy was required.
- Mr Moreton did not cite any principles in his complaint, but the Media Council has considered it against Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, and Principle (12) Corrections.
- The fact that Environment Minister David Parker was expected at the meeting but did not attend due to illness was newsworthy. While it might have been worthwhile for the paper to have asked why the mayor was not there, it is the editor’s prerogative to decide what angles to follow up in a story, and it was not essential for fairness, balance or accuracy to cover this aspect. Additionally, although the front-page story about the meeting did not explicitly say that the mayor was not present, the fact that the deputy mayor was presenting the council’s view may have suggested that the mayor was not in attendance. On that basis the complaint under Principle (1) that the story should have included information about the mayor’s absence is not upheld.
- The question as to whether it was misleading to run the mayor’s comment about the government’s response in the same issue without saying that it was a media statement is less clearcut. The Media Council can understand Mr Moreton’s concerns that some readers may have thought the mayor made those comments at the meeting. To avoid confusion, it would have been desirable to say her comments were from a media statement, and the editor was correct to add this to the online version of the story. The Council does not consider this omission to have been significant enough to breach Principle (1) and it was adequate to amend the online article to clarify the situation. The matter was not the kind of significant error that requires a correction in print, so there was no breach of Principle (12).
- Decision: The complaint is not upheld on Principles (1) and (12
Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Scott Inglis, Jonathan MacKenzie, Tim Watkin, Hank Schouten, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, Reina Vaai, Richard Pamatatau.