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Come on NZ Herald, make a clean breast of it

By Steven | September 7, 2012

The Press Council has partly upheld a complaint against the NZ Herald for its inaccurate and unfair editorial on the Piri Weepu breast/bottle feeding saga. It has also upheld a complaint against the Herald on Sunday for its coverage.

Thus, the papers have had to publish a summary of the decisions. (They point out that the full decision is available at the Press Council, but link to the site rather than the decision, which seems petty). NOTE: The link was not available because the Press Council doesn’t publish the decisions until after the newspaper does.

But the inaccurate and unfair NZ Herald editorial is still up, complete with most of the errors, including the unfair photograph. There is no indication in the editorial that it was the subject of criticism by the Press Council. The same goes for one of the Herald on Sunday stories. UPDATE: The Press Council tells me it forgot to remind the Herald about this, and says that perhaps it’s unfair to be too critical of the Herald given the big relaunch of the paper and its website.

What’s more, the Press Council rulings emerged from their meeting in June. I’m not clear exactly when they were released to the parties. But I’m left wondering why it has taken so long for the papers to run their summaries of the complaints. UPDATE: The Press Council tells me the rulings were issued to the parties on 24 August. So the papers haven’t taken very long to publish the summaries. Sorry, NZ Herald and HOS. I should really have checked this before posting. But I do think it’s odd that the Press Council labels this a “June” decision.

There is nothing in the Press Council’s rules that requires papers to (a) correct their online versions of stories when complaints have been upheld, (b) include a link to the full decision – either in the online version of the story, or in the summary of the Press Council’s decision, or (c) to publish a summary promptly when a complaint is upheld. NOTE: In fact, the Press Council’s rules to require online versions of articles to be flagged when a complain is upheld: see 10(a). I overlooked this: sorry, Press Council. I should also note that the Press Council says – rightly, I think – that members routinely publish the Council’s decisions reasonably promptly, even though that requirement is not spelled out in the rules.

But these practices all go against the spirit of the rules. If papers aren’t prepared to do the decent thing, the Press Council needs to shore up its rules to maintain its credibility. UPDATE: I now think this conclusion is over-stated. But the tag on the online story need only say that the article is “subject to a Press Council decision”, and need only link to the Press Council’s website, even when the decision has been published by the Press Council. Sometimes it will be easy to find; sometimes not. I can see no reason why the gist of the Press Council’s criticism should not be required to be appended to the infringing article, or at least that a direct link to the Press Council’s decision should be required. If that means the Press Council needs to publish the decision at the same time as the newspaper, then surely that makes sense.

The Herald still hasn’t noted the upheld complaint on the bottle-feeding editorial. But looking back through other Press Council decisions involving the Herald, I have to say it has a pretty good track record. And in relation to previously upheld complaints it has done the decent thing and linked the original (infringing) article to the summary of the Press Council decision that it published.

Topics: Press Council | 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “Come on NZ Herald, make a clean breast of it”

  1. smize Says:
    September 13th, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    The full story on these matters hasn’t come out yet, and I am fighting it in other forums. I will certainly make you aware of any developments, Steven, as they come to hand. But I would note the Council’s statement is very misleading. The newspapers were informed of the substance of the Press Council’s rulings on 4 July (two months before they actually published and not in the midst of a relaunch of the paper). The fact that the final rulings were only released on 24 August was due to the newspapers’ own actions, and they knew that there would be no changes to the parts of the rulings upholding the complaint against printed and online content. So they plenty of time to prepare.

    The Council forgot to warn them about doing something about online content? Shouldn’t the newspapers be familiar with the rules themselves? One would think that they should know what their responsibilities are, when complaints are upheld against them.

    It is also totally unacceptable to merely note that inaccurate and unfair content is “subject of a ruling by the NZ Press Council”. Members of the public are unlikely to read that sentence and conclude that a complaint was upheld against the content, and that it was considered to be both inaccurate and unfair. Good journalism requires either modifying the offending content or including a fair summary of the Council’s ruling everywhere that the newspaper continues to disseminate the content.

  2. smize Says:
    September 14th, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    I have been asked by the Press Council to clarify my comments and I am happy to do so. I regret the ambiguity and I am happy to provide these clarifications. As I note in the concluding paragraph below, however, my original point remains entirely valid.

    I said that “the fact that the final rulings were only released on 24 August was due to the newspapers’ own actions.” I agree that this sentence contains some ambiguity. The Council released decisions to the parties on 4 July. I was assisting the complainant with its submissions at that time. The information provided to me (by the Council) was that the Herald had made new representations expressing disagreement with the content of the decisions (the complainant was not allowed to see these representations). The Council’s Chair determined that the matter would go to the full Council for reconsideration (the complainant was not allowed to make a submission on this). So the newspaper triggered the process that led to the delay, but in truth there would not have been a delay if the Chair had not also agreed to one, and the length of the delay was due to Press Council procedures. The point remains that but/for the Herald’s actions, the decisions would have been publicised by the media sometime in July, after their release to the parties on 4 July.

    My original comment also said the newspapers “knew that there would be no changes to the parts of the rulings upholding the complaint against printed and online content”. Let me clarify this. The Herald had challenged comments in the rulings relating to a procedural matter concerning the complaint process, but that challenge did not in any respect relate to whether the articles in question were inaccurate and unfair. The newspapers did not challenge the rulings of inaccuracy and unfairness, and knew that those rulings would not change in substance.

    There was one change to the form of the rulings. Once the complainant was told that the supplied rulings were to be reconsidered, it decided to ask for one person’s name to be removed, and for this person to be referred to by their position instead. This name had not been published in the newspaper accounts, so again this change did not relate to the complainant’s criticisms of the published articles, or to the Council’s finding that some of that content was inaccurate and unfair. Changing from a name to a title was an extremely minor change that shouldn’t have interfered with the newspapers’ ability to prepare for publication of the rulings.

    My original point remains valid. From the 4th of July, the newspapers involved had plenty of information about what was to happen. The exact wording of the rulings was not known, but it was known exactly which of the complainant’s arguments re inaccuracy and unfairness had succeeded, and exactly which printed and online content was involved. To leave the online content untouched until the 8th of September or later – after publication of the print summaries – cannot realistically be attributed to inadequate time to prepare!

  3. ross Says:
    September 21st, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    If only the LLL had accepted the opportunityfor the public to see Piri feeding his daughter, none of this would have eventuated. It’s a pity that the LLL didn’t see the bigger picture.

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