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Complaint of Political Bias

Complaint of Political Bias in Council's Ratepayer-Funded Newspaper

A complaint of political bias has been laid with the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) after analysis showed that that only Mayor John Banks and all of the Citizen & Ratepayers (C&R) councillors have appeared in the ratepayer-funded City Scene newspaper since the 2007 local body election. City Scene is how Auckland City Council communicates with the public. It is distributed weekly to more than 170,000 residential letterboxes and postboxes throughout Auckland city.

Councillor Cathy Casey said, “Of the 79 issues of City Scene in the 20 months after the election, there have been 32 photos of the Mayor and 34 of councillors. All of the councillors photographed are C&R. Councillor Moyle appears the most often in eleven photographs; Councillor Bhatnagar is in four; while Councillors Hay, Armstrong and Goldsmith are in three each. Councillors Lister and Lotu-Iiga appear twice each while Councillors Baguley, Millar, Mulholland and Raffills appear once.”

Councillor Casey claims that there is obvious political bias in councillor coverage and said, “It is extraordinary that a ratepayer-funded council newspaper should so blatantly favour one particular political group to the total exclusion of the others. I believe the council is in breach of Principle 11 of the Auditor General’s Good Practice for Managing Public Communications by Local Authorities which states that ‘Care should be exercised in the use of Council resources for communications that are presented in such a way that they raise, or could have the effect of raising, a Member's personal profile in the community (or a section of the community). In permitting the use of its resources for such communications, the Council should consider equitable treatment among all Members’.”

Councillor Glenda Fryer said, “The issue is also about fairness and C&R have used an official Council newspaper unfairly. City Scene has been used as if it were a party political organ for the C&R organisation. In the Eden-Albert ward there are no C&R councillors and we have been told that unless we invite a C&R councillor to open a new facility or turn the sod of a community project then Eden-Albert councillors and community board members will not get any coverage in City Scene. In my eight years as an Auckland City Councillor no political grouping has used council resources as blatantly as the Banks-led C&R Council has done this term. Local residents expect fairness of coverage on council and community board initiatives and activities, not a biased party political broadcast to assist one grouping of councillors in their political ambitions for the supercity.”

“Such blatant political bias undermines the credibility of City Scene as a reliable and objective source of information,” said Councillor Graeme Easte, who has often complained about the amount of ‘spin’ in City Scene.

City Vision-Labour leader Councillor Richard Northey said, “Campaigning for the new Auckland Supercity Council has clearly already been started by Mayor John Banks and by C&R, with Councillor Aaron Bhatnagar's car painted all over in C&R’s livery. We hope that the Auckland City Council and the OAG will recognise that the previous 3 months pre-election ban on what is in effect selective coverage for only one political group in the Council’s media outlets will instead apply at least from the beginning of the local body election year as it did in last year's parliamentary election.”

ENDS

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