Emmerson on Bloggers

March 28th, 2014 at 6:18 am by David Farrar

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Yesterday’s Emmerson cartoon. Very funny.

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Press Council to include blogs

March 24th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Press Council will offer membership to blogs and digital media and will get tougher powers for dealing with complaints.

The move follows a review by the council’s main funder, the Newspaper Publishers’ Association, after considering recommendations by the Press Council and a Law Commission Report.

Association editorial director Rick Neville said most publishers felt the time had come to strengthen the council’s authority and extend its coverage to handle complaints against digital media, including blogs.

I presume it will only extend to blogs who decide to join, otherwise they’ll be very busy! Cactus Kate has commented that they’ll need an extra staff member just for Whale Oil.

Digital media will be offered a new form of membership with a fee based on the size of the entity and its commercial or non-commercial status. They must agree to the same statement of principals and complaints process as other members.

Take up may depend on the size of the fee.

Under the changes the council would also have the right, in exceptional circumstances, to censure a magazine, newspaper or website by unanimous decision of the council.

Other new measures include greater power over where an adjudication appears in a publication.

Members will be required to regularly publicise information about the Press Council’s complaints process, and member websites will be required to provide an easy-to-find complaints channel with details on making a complaint.

The council will also have the power to direct that elements of a story be removed from an online article, or for a story to be taken down.

Good to see slightly more teeth.

Whale Oil notes:

The only problem I have is the two EPMU representatives on the Press Council. I believe that in extending these provisions they need to have two bloggers on the council too. Perhaps is now time to formalise the Bloggers Union so that representatives can be appointed to the Press Council.

That is a concern. The EPMU are members of the Labour Party, fund the Labour Party and vote for its leader. Having EPMU representatives take part in decisions on non Labour supporting blogs could be a conflict of interest.

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More complainants

March 25th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

A Sonja Lawson complained to The Press Council:

Miss Lawson phoned a complaint to the editor of Taranaki Daily News, followed up by a letter, alleging factually incorrect and misleading information relating to the ‘abusive faxes’ column comment. She followed this up over a month later with a further letter complaining about both articles. 

She complained that no response had been received to her multiple calls, faxes and now letters to her claims that the articles are inaccurate, unfair and unbalanced; that her privacy had been breached as she had name suppression; that the headlines were inaccurate and misleading; that the paper had used subterfuge and had refused to correct errors. She demanded retraction and apologies in a prominent place in the paper. 

Very ironic that she is guilty of sending offensive communications, and when the paper reports this, she starts sending them numerous communications.

The editor of Taranaki Daily News responded to the Council that the published articles had been taken from a Court of Appeal decision and a hearing in the Hawera District Court, and he was unaware of any inaccuracy. Furthermore no suppression order was in place regarding Miss Lawson. …

Miss Lawson does not have name suppression (the Court of Appeal judgment is available online) and the newspaper had a right to report each case.

I’m amazed this case even went to a full hearing of the Press Council. Her allegations of name suppression are a figment of her imagination and I thought that would be enough to make her complaint invalid.

Also in terms of dopey complaints, we have an H Malcolm who complained to the ASA over this Tui billboard:

“Mine’s a Footlong

Just like Subway’s                                          Yeah Right”

The delicate complainant said:

“I believe this billboard breaches public decency by the inference to male genitalia and is unsuitable for public viewing.”

Oh dear.

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Lunatic complaint of the week

November 22nd, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Houston, we have a winner.

Case Number: 2291 ALLAN GOLDEN AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Background 
The column published on September 1, 2012 discussed the impact of US astronaut Neil Armstrong’s moon landing and compared his achievements to those of cyclist Lance Armstrong, who had been stripped of his awards that same week because of drug cheating. 

Complaint 
Mr Golden said the column was untrue because the moon landings did not happen and it was improper for The Dominion Post to suggest otherwise. He claimed that the columnist and The Dominion Post editor knew the moon landings were a fiction and they were propagating “false propaganda”. 

He said the column breached six Press Council principles, including accuracy, fairness and balance. He also cited principles covering children, discrimination, subterfuge, conflicts of interest and corrections.

Oh dear God. This complaint must have had the Press Council and the Dom Post staff in hysterics. Sadly they have to treat it is as a valid complaint. I’d be tempted to just ask the complainant for proof the moon landings were faked, but I suspect he would have then never stopped corresponding.

It is widely accepted that Neil Armstrong did land on the moon and The Dominion Post’s column is reflecting many reports over many years that have assumed the moon landings to be fact. Mr Golden believes the reports to be propaganda and The Dominion Post a willing vehicle for that propaganda. 

The difficulty for the Press Council is Mr Golden has not supplied any evidence to convince it that the moon landings did not happen – except his own opinion.

I don’t think the fact of the moon landings really is an assumption.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.

That’s five minutes of their lives they’ll never get back.

Mr Allan Golden appears to be a serial complainer. I’ve found three other Press Council complaints and a BSA complaint. The BSA complaint was about a TVNZ news item that referred to the price of gold in US dollars rather than NZ dollars! Another BSA complaint from him is here. Of and a Press Council complaint here alleging a Fairfax conspiracy.

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Want to help highlight the silly complainers?

October 26th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Just been looking at all the complaints that the Advertising Standards Authority has had to deal with this year. There are a staggering 523 complaints, and reading through many of them, you see so many people with a total lack of sense of humour. For example:

The direct mail flyer showed a picture of a cow that had attempted to jump over a steel gate, but had got stuck half way. The position of the cow over the gate appears uncomfortable. Above the image is the heading “Rural broad band… no more obstacles”. Further information about the broadband packages is listed next to the image. …

Complainant, C. Bateman, said: in part “This image is disrespectful to animals, is offensive to anyone concerned about animal welfare and even if it’s meant to be “tongue in cheek” it is not even remotely humourous.”

Oh Good God. And that is one of the more sane complaints.

Anyway this has given me an idea for a regular feature – focusing on the idiotic complaints people send to to various regulatory bodies.

But I need some help to do this.

What I’m after is one or two people who will say once a week on alternate weeks go to the websites of the ASA, BSA and Press Council and have a quick skim of complaints. Then all you have to do is send me a link and/or an extract of the ones which are basically seriously demented or show someone totally lacking in humour.

If this appeals to you, just e-mail me. I think we’ll be doing a public service by highlighting the inanity of some of our serial complainers.

Probably looking to do one post a week highlighting no more than six inane complaints. I suspect a few names will reoccur!

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Press Council complaints

February 24th, 2012 at 2:54 pm by David Farrar

Whale Oil has blogged on an interesting case:

Todd McDonald aka The Jackal has been told to sling his hook by the Press Council because he won’t reveal who he is. He complained last year about the NBR and the Otago Daily Times.

It is of course not proven that Todd is The Jackal, but Whale lays out a pretty convincing case. The Press Council ruling is what interests me:

Requests from the Press Council for an address; phone number; driver licence details or car registration (Mr McDonald said he was homeless and lived in a car) were all refused.

Amazing how good his Internet connection is for someone who lives in a car and is homeless.

The Press Council determined not to rule on Mr McDonald’s complaints. They reasoned that they should not rule on a complaint where the complainant had not provided any detail as to their bona fides.

If a newspaper were to publish material or a letter to the editor under the same circumstances (without establishing, or having the means to establish, the credentials of the commenter/letter-writer) the Press Council might very well say the newspaper was at fault. The same principle applied. If the Council accepted the complaint it was lowering its standards to a level it wouldn’t want a newspaper to practice.

I absolutely agree that the Press Council should only accept complaints from people who are prepared to verify themselves. There are enough trolls out there who abuse the Press Council and BSA complaints system, without adding to it by allowing people to file complaints from effective anonymity (such as providing a name and no contact details).

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Greens also want Govt control of the press

October 25th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

I blogged last week on how Labour’s policy was to look at bringing the self-regulatory Press Council under Government control (and to tax Internet users).

Well the Herald reports the Greens are also keen on the idea:

The Green Party wants to make independent media watchdog the Press Council answerable to the Government.

So if there is a centre-left Government of Labour, Greens and Winston, the Government looks likely to bring in Government censorship of print media. I mean can anyone imagine Winston thinking it is a bad idea?

If print media lose their independence by a Labour/Greens Government, then the possible penalties they could face from a Government appointed BSA regulator include:

  • Compulsory publication of a statement from the BSA
  • an order to refrain from publishing for a set period of time
  • an order to refuse any advertisements for a set period of time
  • $100,000 fines for non-compliance
  • Pay costs (which can be huge)

The Minister of Broadcasting appoints all four members of the BSA. I have no criticism of the current BSA members and their decision to date. But extending their reach to include all media would be a huge step backwards for press freedom, and would inevitably lead to more politicised appointments.

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Devlin v Herald

August 26th, 2011 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Martin Devlin complained about three stories published by the Herald.

The first two reports appeared on the newspaper’s website and the third report was given front-page prominence.

His complaint about unethical journalism traversed several of the Press Council principles, especially a lack of accuracy, fairness and balance; misleading headlines and captions; and misleading readers by the technical manipulation of a photograph.

Parts of his various complaints are upheld. …

More importantly, the Press Council does not accept the argument raised by the newspaper that a Wikipedia definition of “air rage” allows the term to be used to mean the general frustration felt by passengers annoyed by lengthy delays.

It takes the view that “air rage” suggests aggressive behaviour, behaviour exhibiting a loss of control, and there is no evidence of such action in the article. He certainly may have made an ill-considered remark, but there is no suggestion that he became violently angry.

These two complaints about a lack of accuracy and a misleading headline are upheld.

I love how the Herald tried to use a Wikipedia definition as a defence.

Finally, the council turned to Mr Devlin’s overriding contention that he was treated unfairly because the newspaper twisted a minor story into a “front-page extravaganza”.

The council has been loath in the past to delineate the positioning that editors might give to stories, for prominence inevitably depends on transitory factors, such as the relative importance of other news items on any given day.

Furthermore, the Press Council accepts that police escorting such a public figure from a plane, especially given the previous incident, was a valid story for the newspaper to cover.

Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of the red headline, the power of “Air rage”, a particularly large photograph, the dominant position on the front page, the three-times-repeated phrasing of “making a scene and being abusive” as well as the details about previous charges, has to be weighed in terms of general fairness.

In short, was this report so sensationalised that it became “overcooked” and thus unfair to Mr Devlin?

On balance, and despite its long-standing reluctance to adjudicate on the placement of stories, the Press Council unanimously agreed that the overall coverage was indeed unfair. This aspect of his complaint is also upheld.

As they said, it is unusual for The Press Council to second guess a newspaper on an issue such as prominence. The fact they unanimously decided to rule it was unfair, suggests they thought that Devlin really had been badly treated.

Having said that, most people manage to get on and off aircraft without upsetting the air crew, and that is one sure fire way to make sure no negative stories appear about you on board planes.

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SST v Edwards

February 11th, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Brian Edwards has been threatened with a defamation suit by lawyers acting for the Sunday Star-Times. I think the SST is over-reacting, especially as all Edwards has done is publish four sworn affadavits saying Amanda Hotchin did not speak the words attributed to her by the Sunday Star-Times. Edwards has been careful to say he does not know who is correct, and has mainly been calling for the SST to rebut the affadavits.

The SST are refusing to, on the basis of a possible lawsuit by Hotchin.

I don’t know if the SST report of Mrs Hotchin’s words are correct or not. I will make the point that the reporter, Jonathan Marshall, is in the habit of recording his conversations as proof of what has been said to him. I do not know whether or not he recorded this particular exchange.

Mrs Hotchin has said it is too expensive to sue, and has instead effectively fought her side of the story on Dr Edwards’s blog. And I have certainly found it interesting to hear her side. However at the end of the day Brian Edwards can’t adjudicate on the veracity of the report, as he can’t compel a response from the SST.

Mrs Hotchin should file a formal complaint with the Sunday Star-Times, and if not satisified with their response, then complain to the press council. That would allow her affadavits to be tested against any evidence from the Sunday Star-Times. I am suspicious that she refuses to take this step – it does not need lawyers and costs basically nothing – it is her best chance of clearing her name.

But while Mrs Hotchin is not helping her own case by refusing to go down the route of the Press Council, I don’t think it is a good look for a newspaper to use nastygram legal letters to try and shut up a blogger – these are the tactics normally used by the subjects of newspaper investigations – not newspapers themselves.

The SST could simply have responded to the affadavits with an invitation for Mrs Hotchin to complain to the Press Council, and stating they are confident in their version of events.

Threatening Dr Edwards with defamation is also very stupid. It guarantees more and more people will know about the issue, and gets the story into the mainstream media.

Hopefully common sense will preval and Mrs Hotchin will go down the press council avenue for adjudication, and the Sunday Star-Times will keep its specialist defamation lawyers on a leash.

UPDATE: A reader has pointed out to me that the Hotchins themselves have been pretty quick to use lawyers also to threaten defamation. An (offline) HoS story reported in May 2010:

As with Amanda, few who know Mark are willing to talk on the record. Robert Alloway, managing director of Allied Farmers, the firm that absorbed Hanover assets in controversial deal at the end of last year, says the men behind Hanover have a reputation for sending out letters from law firm Chapman Tripp.

“They have deep pockets and aren’t afraid to reach into them. Whether it’s Bruce Sheppard, or me, or anyone saying anything you’d call an opinion, you’d get a letter. Typically I can set my watch by it. If it’s in a Saturday paper, I’ll get a letter on the Tuesday,” he says.

I also understand the Hotchins had their own law firm send lawyers letters to other media, threatening them if they repeated the SST story.

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Labour loses Press Council complaint

November 5th, 2008 at 10:28 am by David Farrar

The Press Council has rejected a complaint from a former Labour MP about its coverage of Labour’s transitional assistance package. What makes this issue especially interesting is that the former MP berated the Herald for publishign information that was different to what the Labour Party pamphlet said – even though the pamphlet was wrong.

So in fact she was complaing that the Herald told the truth, instead of running the incorrect information put out by Labour!

The Press Council has rejected a complaint against the Herald brought under fast-track procedures during the election campaign.

Rejecting a complaint about the Herald’s coverage last week of Labour’s just-announced Job Search Allowance, the council went further and praised the newspaper for not taking a party press release at face value.

How dare the naughty Herald not beleive what Helen tells them.

In an email of complaint to the editor of the Herald Tim Murphy, Ms Kirk said a fact sheet that would have been available to reporters showed that single and married people, solo parents and couples with children were all included.

But Mr Murphy said Ms Kirk had compared a discrepancy between the Herald article and the policy releases and assumed the newspaper was wrong.

Well by definition, the Prime Minister can not be wrong.

Mr Murphy said the Herald’s Press Gallery staff had complained loudly to the Prime Minister’s office about the “misleading nature of the material that was handed out”.

“Far from being worthy of a complaint to the Press Council, the Herald coverage of the Job Search Allowance was an excellent example of reporters doing their job properly – not accepting material presented by politicians at face value, and digging further for the facts for our readers,” Mr Murphy said.

In its ruling today, The council said: “Newspapers have a duty not to accept political statements or releases at face value, and the Herald acted correctly in subjecting the Job Search Allowance to scrutiny.

“It was entitled to reach the conclusions it did when reporting the initiative, even though it may not have been what the Labour Party would have wished. Without a doubt, the policy is aimed at families on two incomes. Why the press releases showed figures for single workers or solo parents who would not be eligible is something of a mystery.”

Not much of a mystery. They were hoping the media would help them con the public that Labour was promising something they were not.

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Don’t some people have better things to do with their time?

July 2nd, 2008 at 8:51 am by David Farrar

The Press Council has rejected a complaint about the NZ Herald regarding the term “puzzle mania”:

The Press Council has not upheld a complaint by Philip Wright regarding the use of the word mania in a billboard publicising the feature insert Puzzle Mania in the Herald of May 19.

The billboard read Inside today Puzzle Mania.

Mr Wright advised he was a barrister who did a lot of work in the mental health area in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

He had seen first-hand the horrific and gut-wrenching effects caused by mania, hypermania and depression.

He took grave exception to the Herald’s use of both the word and a psychiatric condition to sell newspapers.

He thought the Herald should apologise to all mental health sufferers and consumers and be forced to make a significant donation to a trust of which he was an adviser.

Really some people are far far too sensitive.

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Press Council rules against Herald

April 18th, 2008 at 8:27 am by David Farrar

The Press Council has ruled that two of the Herald’s editorials against the Electoral Finance Act were inaccurate due to omission of significant details. The Coalition for Open Government sucessfully laid the complaints, which means they have now won complaints against TV stations for initially reporting the EFB was better than it was (the TV stations made the mistake of believing the Minister’s spin in stead of reading the Bill) and against the Herald for making it sound worse than it was.

The basic issue was statements made in editorials that anyone wanting to promote and issue of concern would have to register as a third party, and that they did not mention this only applies if your spending is over $5,000 (in the original bill) or over $12,000 (in the revised bill). The Herald acknowledged that they probably should have, but stated the limit had been mentioned in other stories.

Incidentially if you wish to campaign for or against a candidate the limit is just $1,000 before you must register.

The Council summarises:

The council accepts that it is probably correct that any person or group wanting to promote an issue of concern would be required to spend more than $12,000.

However, this is not the point. The editorial suggested that anyone who wished to promote an issue of concern would need to register as a third party.

The failure to note the $12,000 threshold was a mis-statement of fact, which in the council’s view was not minimised by the words “to promote an issue of concern”.

Nor is it sufficient in the council’s view to say that the correct amount had been mentioned on other occasions.

Pretty difficult to disagree with the conclusion. The level at which you need to register is material and should have been in the editorials.

Incidentally it is well below the $40,000 recommended by electoral authorities.

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Media access tightened in Parliament

March 21st, 2008 at 11:36 am by David Farrar

I think the Speaker has over reacted by banning media access to the ground floor of Parliament House where the select committees meet. Following Brian Connell to outside the toilet was probably unwise by TVNZ, but the media should have access to MPs when they are going into and out of the House and Select Committees.

While it is not a co-ordinated programme, the cumulative effect of growing media restrictions is a cause for concern. Steven Price blogged last week on a public forum (I was going to attend but got too busy) by the Chairs of the NZ and Australian Press Councils and a member fo the NZ Law Commission. The comments below come from retired High Court Judge Barry Paterson who chairs the NZ Press Council:

He is worried that statutes and regulations may be chipping away at freedom of expression. Examples: restrictions on reporting about suicide in the Coroners Act; the proposal to restrict access to births, deaths and marriages registers; the restrictions on policitcal speech in the Electoral Finance Act (he was surprised that the Crown Law Office vet deferred to the government’s political judgment, and that this “margin of appreciation” could tip a finely balanced freedom of expression issue in favour of allowing encroachment); the possibility of wide codes, and later regulations, aimed at non-communicable diseases, affecting the advertising, sponsorship and marketing of particular goods under the Public Health Bill; and the proposal to amalgamate regulation of various media platforms.

On numerous fronts, the right to know and the right to free speech get encroached.

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