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Media Council rules ‘death threat’ article was incorrect

20 February 2020

The Media Council has ruled an article published in the New Zealand Herald alleging that death threats had been posted on an Auckland-based community group’s Facebook page, was inaccurate.

It says no such threats had been published on the Community Action Network (CAN) page.

The story, headed “Battle brewing over North Shore’s future”, was published on September 25, 2019 as part of a six-part series about fiercely-contested Auckland wards in the lead up to the 2019 Local Body Elections.

Liam Venter complained that the death threat reference was incorrect and detrimental to the Facebook group he founded and its members. He said the comment was “clearly based on hearsay and no attempt was made by the reporter to verify the incorrect facts presented with respect to CAN”.

Mr Venter initially complained to the New Zealand Herald wanting an “unequivocal apology” that stressed the following points: that the report was incorrect and no death threat was posted on the CAN page; the reporter made no attempt to verify the claim with members of the CAN network or via his own observations; and that the threat referred to in the article was not made by anyone in any way associated with CAN.

'No argument' about inaccuracy

The Herald accepted that the article was inaccurate because it stated that the page belonged to members of CAN instead of the Save Takapuna Carpark campaign group. The error was corrected “within a few hours of publication and as soon as we were informed of the error.”

However, over the course of the correspondence it became apparent that the print correction did not refer to the CAN group and the online correction had initially failed to be made.

The Media Council said there was no argument that the publication breached Principle 1 in terms of accuracy.

In its decision it said the reporter could have easily checked the Facebook page in question as well as contacting a representative from the network. “These steps were not taken and this breach of basic journalistic practices was made worse because death threats were involved,” it said.

“It is clear Mr Venter made strenuous attempts to have a relatively simple matter corrected and it is clear that the Herald muddled what should have been a relatively simple correction,” the Media Council said.

The story was eventually corrected online and in print but both iterations had serious flaws pertaining to Mr Venter’s grievances.

The Media Council notes that the Herald has offered a correction in print which Mr Venter has accepted but had not been done at the time of discussing it. “Mr Venter and the members of his Facebook group have waited long enough to have the record put straight,” it says.

Last updated on the 20th February 2020