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Press Council upholds complaints about Investigate

Media release
30 April 2008

Press Council upholds Air New Zealand complaints about Investigate Magazine

Air New Zealand has welcomed a New Zealand Press Council decision upholding complaints about Investigate magazine’s cover story on charter flights published in September 2007.

In a written decision the Press Council upheld complaints by Air New Zealand about an article headlined on the cover: Exclusive. Air NZ’s secret flights. Why our state-owned airline is flying US troops into war.

The Press Council upheld complaints that the cover headline and some details in the article were inaccurate; that the article lacked fairness and that the cover montage of an armed soldier, a queue of people and the familiar Koru on the tail of an Air New Zealand jet was misleading and inaccurate.

Air New Zealand Deputy CEO Norm Thompson said the airline was pleased with the decision.

The airline complained to the Press Council because of the serious errors published by Investigate magazine, and the lack of fairness and balance in the article.

“The Investigate report was sensationalist and riddled with factual errors, and the magazine failed to put a number of allegations about the charter service in the story to Air New Zealand for comment prior to publication,” Mr Thompson said. “These included suggestions the flights were escorted by fighter jets, which was a complete nonsense.”

The Press Council said in its decision that montages – whilst a common means of making magazine covers eye-catching – should not contain unnecessarily misleading material.

“In this instance, the cover was narrative in that it appeared to be a photograph of a US soldier alongside an Air New Zealand jet, and its purpose was to illustrate a story about the airline flying US troops into war, a story that was untrue. It was misleading and inaccurate. This complaint is upheld.

“On balance, after considering all aspects carefully, the Press Council also upholds the complaint of inaccuracy relating to claims of the fighter jet escort; the level of secrecy surrounding the flights; and that staff had been sworn to secrecy. Although concessions regarding the accuracy were made by the editor in his November response to the published Air New Zealand letter, the information should have been subjected to verification checks before publication.”

On the information available, the Press Council believed it to be a “stretch” to say the flights were secret or top-secret.

“On the issue of questioning whether Air New Zealand was wise to use a liveried aircraft, the Press Council does not uphold the complaint. This was fair comment and the magazine was entitled to make it.

“But it upholds the complaint of lack of fairness. Investigate may have distrusted the airline, but there were ways the magazine could have tried to get a response in time for publication while protecting its exclusive story.

“Good journalism demands fairness and the editor’s allegation that taking such a step would have led to his scoop effectively being sabotaged is disturbing.”


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