KWBRRA AGAINST KATIKATI ADVERTISER

Case Number: 2928

Council Meeting: JULY 2020

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Katikati Advertiser

Ruling Categories: Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Unfair Coverage

Overview

On September 19, 2019, the Katikati Advertiser published an ‘advertorial’ paid for by the Katikati-Waihi Beach Residents and Ratepayer Association Incorporated (KWBRRA).KWBRRA complain that the advertorial was edited without their approval.They also complain that a letter to the editor they penned was not published and that the NZME editors provide unbalanced, positive coverage of the Western Bay of Plenty District Council.

The Complaint

KWBRRA sent a half-page advertorial for publication in the Katikati Advertiser to NZME for publication on 19 September.The advertorial in part questioned the performance of the Western Bay of Plenty District Council’s (WBOPDC) Mayor on issues of asbestos removal from a property and dust from a subdivision. When the advertorial was published the penultimate sentence had been removed.When KWBRRA questioned NZMA about the omission, no explanation was provided as to why the sentence was not published, instead an offer to run the advertorial again or another one later, free of charge, was made.

On September 26, 2019, the Katikati Advertiser published a letter to the editor by Mike Williams, a retiring councillor.In the letter Williams challenges the accuracy of some of the content of the KWBRRA’s advertorial.

KWBRRA responded by drafting a letter to the editor refuting William’s claims.The editor of theAdvertiser chose not to publish it.KWBRRA claims that publishing the letter would have provided fairness and balance and would have served the public interest.

KWBRRA further contend that because the WBOPDC regularly takes full page colour advertisements (rather than using the smaller Public Notices column) that this acts as an inducement for the paper not to print anything critical about the Council.They are concerned that the views of ratepayers are not being published because their local papers are being told what they can publish by the Council.

The Response

Chris Steel (Editor, Katikati Advertiser) and Ashleigh Harding (Legal Counsel, NZME) respond. Both point out that the Media Council is not the appropriate forum for considering matters relating to an advertisement.

In regards to the non-publication of KWBRRA’s letter, NZME responded by stating that theKatikati Advertiser published a paid advertisement in good faith from the KWBRRA which, in their view, provided a strong and robust platform for the Association to present its issues.The newspaper then published a letter to the editor which responded to the advertisement.The editor made the decision not to enter a ‘tit-for-tat’ exchange that could have potentially continued for a substantial period.

NZME conclude by stating that all letters to the editor are considered for publication. The editor’s decision not to publish was based on editorial discretion, as set down in Media Council Principle 5, and not due to advertising spend by WBOPDC.They also state, in any event, the Association’s initial advertisement would have likely had a greater audience than the letter to the editor.

The Decision

NZME is correct to point out that any editing of an advertisement lies outside the remit of the Media Council.The Media Council can only rule on matters of editorial content.As such this portion of the complaint has not been advanced.

In terms of the non-publication of the letter to the editor, the Media Council’s Principle Five clearly states “letters for publication are the prerogative of editors who are to be guided by fairness, balance and public interest.” Ultimately the decision to publish or not is at the discretion of the editor.

KWBRRA seems to contend that the non-publication of the letter is linked to editorial bias and as such, the editor’s decision was unbalanced, influenced by the advertising spend of the Council.However, no evidence was presented by KWBRRA to substantiate this serious accusation that the editor was influenced by the Council's advertising spend.Indeed, on the evidence presented, both parties seem to have been given ‘fair voice’.

The complaint is not upheld.

Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Marie Shroff, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.