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Press Council Rejects Gwynn’s Case


Press Council Rejects Gwynn’s Case

The Press Council today announced its findings with regard to a complaint I took before it over the Hawke’s Bay Today coverage of the 2004 local body elections.

Its adjudication is that ‘the complaint is not upheld’. I understand that the full adjudication will be published on the Council’s website www.presscouncil.org.nz (case no.1000).

Commenting today on the decision, Dr Gwynn said that he had taken the complaint before the Council as a matter of public interest, was glad he had done so, and still considers the complaint justified.

He thanked the Council for the opportunity to be heard, and acknowledged the accuracy of its summary of his complaint, that it was founded on omissions in election coverage and

included the claims that the newspaper failed to report on candidates’ meetings, closed its letters column to candidates (subject to one exception), ignored media releases, restricted comment by candidates to set topics identified by the newspaper, made inaccurate editorial assertions about the elections, failed to afford candidates any real opportunity to advance their own policies or ideas, and reported in a personality-based manner rather than an issue-based manner.

In reply the editor of Hawke’s Bay Today

rejected Dr Gwynn’s criticisms and maintained that the newspaper’s election coverage was fair and unbiased. He suggested that Dr Gwynn may have been disappointed because he had an "unrealistic expectation" of a newspaper.

Dr Gwynn thanked two people who, without his knowledge, had made submissions in support of his position, and others who had provided him with correspondence which the Council declined to take into account.

WHERE LIES THE PUBLIC GOOD?

The Press Council decision is founded on the rights of the editor. ‘It is not the role of the Council to determine what is newsworthy…that is entirely a matter for the editor.’

Dr Gwynn said he agreed that editorial freedom of action was an important matter, but so too was the public’s right to be informed.

‘In essence the Press Council says that editorial freedom of action is sufficient guarantee of the public good. In a democracy where a paper in a monopoly position can exercise huge influence, that is not good enough, especially at election time.

‘The Council is a professionally based forum, founded and funded entirely from the publication industry. The consideration of the broader public good requires something wider. In this respect my complaint parallels some that have been taken before other professionally self monitored bodies such as the Police Complaints Authority or the Medical Council.

‘In time I expect monitoring bodies to emerge which will be wholly separate from the professions they oversee. When that next stage in accountability develops, it will be interesting to know what is made of a complaint such as mine.

‘Meanwhile I hope in time to write up comments on the case and send them to university media studies departments, since it raises interesting questions of principle for aspiring journalists.

‘The editor of Hawke’s Bay Today acknowledges his "obligation, as editor of Hawke’s Bay’s daily newspaper, to ensure readers are kept well informed". I continue to believe he has a duty to his readers to explain why, having undertaken to "give our readers the means to make an informed choice", to run "comment and analysis about new candidates", and to cover "public meetings with commentaries by reporters" – the paper then did so little in pursuit of those things.’


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