Press Council upholds complaint over story
Andrew Frazer complained that a story in
‘‘Problems persist for Pauatahanui cafe’’ (February 23) was misleading and lacked balance.
The newspaper carried a report on the costs faced by the cafe owner, Darryl Ellis, for resource consent from Porirua City Council for extensions to his premises, comprising additional seating and a car parking area.
Alongside a picture of Mr Ellis in the cafe, the story quoted him saying, ‘‘I’ve been treated terribly. I feel like I have been bullied.’’ The consent had taken two years and increased the cost of his extensions from $40,000 to $120,000.
The bulk of the report was devoted to Mr Ellis’ frustrations with the council. A response from the council’s acting general manager was included. He said the consent process had been difficult and he considered the costs reasonable.
Mr Frazer, a Porirua resident, complained the report ignored information provided to the newspaper which explained it was Mr Ellis, not the council, that caused his application to take so long and become so costly for him. An Independent Commissioner had reviewed the case and concluded the council had acted correctly and its charges were reasonable.
Mr Frazer said the commissioner’s report was provided to the Kapi-Mana News reporter.
The editor of Kapi-Mana News contended the story was fair, balanced and accurate. It accurately conveyed that Mr Ellis was unhappy with his treatment by the council and that the council was satisfied it dealt properly with the case.
In his initial response to the complainant, the editor said his reporter, ‘‘was indeed supplied with some information by the council. He was also supplied with some information by Mr Ellis. He read it all, discussed it and produced his story.’’
Readers of the newspaper would not have realised from its report that the cafe owner was largely to blame for the time and costs of his resource consent. This was the finding of an Independent Commissioner, which Kapi-Mana News did not mention in its story.
The tenor of the newspaper’s report was this was a business facing unfair expense at the hands of an unreasonable council. The vague, cautious comments of the council’s general manager would not have altered this impression.
A longer version of the newspaper’s story was published on the Stuff website. This version did mention the Independent Commissioner’s finding, albeit well down the story. Mr Frazer said had the online version appeared in the newspaper he would not have brought his complaint.
The Independent Commissioner’s report makes it clear Mr Ellis sought retrospective consent for work already done, that more construction started before a building consent was granted, and an abatement notice was issued, that senior council officers spent considerable time trying to persuade Mr Ellis to apply for consent and provided him with advice. He was not charged for any of that time.
The council made the decision to notify the application because the applicant had not provided sufficient further information when asked.
The Independent Commissioner reports that there were also multiple changes to the application during the process, which forced council officers to reconsider aspects of the consent.
A newspaper that sought to give its readers an accurate account of Mr Ellis’ dealings with the council would have made reference to these aspects of the case, readily available to it in the Independent Commissioner’s report. The comments of the council’s general manager were not sufficient to alert readers to the other side of the story.
Kapi-Mana News’ failure to do so left its readers with an inaccurate impression from an unbalanced report that was unfair to them and to the council. The complaint is upheld. People with a complaint against a newspaper or magazine should first complain in writing to the editor of the publication and then, if they are not satisfied with the response, complain to the Press Council. Complaints can be lodged using the online complaint formor addressed to the Executive Director, PO Box 10 879, The Terrace, Wellington. Phone 473 5220 or 0800 969 357. Information on the Press Council is available at press council.org.nz.