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Gwynn Cites Hawke's Bay Today

Mon, 04 Oct 2004

Gwynn Cites Hawke's Bay Today

BEFORE PRESS COUNCIL

Napier mayoral candidate Dr Robin Gwynn announced today that he has cited the only local daily newspaper, Hawke's Bay Today, before the Press Council.

'It's a most unusual move by a candidate during a campaign', he said, 'and a step I take with great regret. That I'm taking it at all shows just how poorly the paper has covered the issues in the present election.

'No mayoral candidate wants to be taking on the press. Win the election, and you start your mayoralty on the wrong foot. Lose, and a complaint looks like sour grapes. In any case it's too much like biting the hand you hope might feed you.

'But as the Press Council says, "the public has the right to be informed". Extensive door-knocking round Napier shows that people have very little idea of the issues that have been raised during this campaign, even though they are real and fundamental and have been vigorously pursued in candidates' meetings.

'Without stirring from the Bay, I know that Aucklanders are concerned about traffic corridors as well as dirty tricks by mayoral candidates, or that in Palmerston North the Square is a matter of controversy. Here in Napier, no equivalent awareness.

'A daily newspaper in a monopoly position has a responsibility to its community to make some attempt to canvass and discuss the issues raised, especially at election time when people need to be informed in order to vote intelligently. Hawke's Bay Today has notably failed to meet that responsibility.

You would not know from it that fundamental questions have been raised about the effects of not having a ward system, and about whether Napier groups and suburban residents' associations are being effectively represented or, rather, shut out from the decision making process.

You would not know that a number of candidates have raised health issues, with a range of opinions on what Council could or should do about them.

You would not know of the clear link established between where councillors currently live and the areas which have benefitted from changes in rates.

You would not know the other significant matters that have been raised, ranging from Napier's growing long-term debt to Westshore Beach, from Taradale shopping centre development to tourism, from how proceeds from the Lagoon Farm development should be used to health risks from Jervoistown drains.

So many issues that impact on the Napier community - and all the paper has been able to do is produce its dubious 'ratings' of councillors and attack various individual candidates. Not good enough, by a long way!

Saturday's Hawke's Bay Today, with a front page lead designed to put me in a bad light, shows other problems with the paper's professional standards. It never explains that it is written as a pre-emptive strike following my formal letter before taking the paper to the Press Council. Readers needed to know the background to assess its possible bias.

Justifying its failure to report on issues, the paper states I submitted three media releases of which it received only one. Wrong. I submitted seven, and it received every one of them.

It implies it didn't know about the seven public meetings held in Napier last month. Wrong. From the paper's own comments it knew of at least five of them in advance. But it couldn't be bothered to attend or report any of them.

And it reported a telephone survey. Precise percentages were given of who was voting for whom. Only, the paper failed to say what professional outfit it had employed (if any), or how its small sample was selected, and it gave no margin of error (which would have been very high, since a quarter of those contacted wouldn't answer.) Polls are known to impact on voting practice, and it is important that any poll being published so close to an election be properly, professionally done and reported. This wasn't.

ENDS

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