The John Manukia Inquiry
Friday March 3rd 2006
The John Manukia Inquiry:
An investigation into articles written by a dismissed Herald on Sunday reporter while he worked for two Fairfax publications has revealed that some cannot be satisfactorily verified, Fairfax New Zealand’s editor-in-chief and chief operating officer, Peter O’Hara, said today.
The investigation was instigated last October after John Manukia was dismissed by the Herald on Sunday for allegedly fabricating a story about a South Auckland police officer, Anthony Solomona.
Mr Manukia worked for Fairfax’s New Zealand Truth and Sunday News between 2001 and 2003.
The investigation studied a random sample of articles written by Mr Manukia during his time at the Fairfax papers.
It found 12 articles from the sample could not be verified in whole or in part. Some could not be substantiated at all, others contained quotes from people whose existence could not be confirmed, some contained quotes from people who confirmed they had said such things but not to the reporter or Sunday News and one contained quotes from a man who denied he had spoken to a reporter on the topic.
Mr O’Hara said while other articles could be verified, the number of articles in which discrepancies had been found meant Fairfax standards had not been met.
Mr Manukia had been given the opportunity to respond to the articles in which discrepancies were found. Despite stating he would do so, the reporter had failed to take up the opportunity.
“Fairfax NZ regrets and is disappointed that Mr Manukia has not provided satisfactory answers,” Mr O’Hara said. “However, we cannot force him to meet us further to resolve this issue.”
He said he believed the company’s willingness to check his articles in the wake of his dismissal from the Herald on Sunday showed its commitment to preserving the integrity of its journalism and titles.
“Above all, we want to preserve the public’s trust in our publications. Our initiative in undertaking this inquiry, when it would have been easy to say the reporter had long since left our employment, shows, we believe, our commitment to the highest levels of journalistic responsibility,” he said.
The standard set for verification of articles was high, Mr O’Hara said. It was based on legal requirements, the Fairfax New Zealand Code of Ethics and the New Zealand Press Council’s Statement of Principles.
Those named in the randomly-selected articles were contacted and asked to verify the facts as outlined.
Mr O’Hara said it was pleasing that most of those contacted had agreed to participate willingly, while some had praised the company for its inquiry.
Based on those responses, the results have been analysed and patterns noted for the benefit of Fairfax staff in the future.
Mr O’Hara said the results had justified Fairfax NZ’s decision to investigate the articles written by Mr Manukia.
“At the same time, we believe this is an aberration and the overwhelming majority of our staff are hard-working and ethical.
“Much of what editorial staff members do in all their work is based on a relationship of mutual trust – supervisors and staff have to trust each other for their honesty, reliability, integrity and high ethical, writing and personal standards. As in most organisations, this trust is normally given freely.
“But just as important, in the rare instances such as this, it is important for readers of all our publications to know that Fairfax NZ will not sweep things under the carpet but will go to considerable lengths to show them our commitment to the highest standards.”
Mr O’Hara said that as a result of the investigation, Fairfax NZ would ask all editors to review their complaints resolution procedures, and to develop robust record-keeping procedures and systems.