New Zealand Law Society - Concern over inaccurate news story and lack of correction

Concern over inaccurate news story and lack of correction

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The Media Council has upheld a complaint that a Māori news outlet's article was inaccurate and that it failed to publish a correction.

The Waatea News website published an item on 9 August 2019 headlined “Hobson’s Pledge tries to roll Tauranga land return.” It reported historian Buddy Mikaere saying the local council needed to stand up to a campaign by Don Brash’s Hobson’s Pledge group trying to overturn a Tauranga City Council decision to return a block of land next to an historic mission station to Māori.

It also reported that the Hobson’s Pledge call for opposition led to hundreds of negative and racist submissions, many of which were anonymous.

Rob Paterson, chairman of Citizens Advocacy Tauranga Society (CAT), complained that the article was inaccurate and that Mr Mikaere’s statements were untrue and scurrilous. Mr Paterson said it was his group that was one of the main contributors to the numerous submissions made against the Tauranga City Council proposal. At no time, to his knowledge, had Dr Brash or Hobson’s Pledge supported the opposition groups and there had been no contact with Dr Brash or the group.

Mr Paterson also said Mr Mikaere was wrong to claim there were many anonymous submissions.

Waatea News general manager Bernie O’Donnell said his organisation had agreed to post an amended story.

The Media Council says it was concerned with the way Waatea News dealt with the story and the subsequent complaint.

“Firstly, the story was solely based on comment by Mr Mikaere and there was no indication that any checking was done before the item was published. At the very least a call could have been made to Hobson’s Pledge, and the submission process checked.

“It appears Dr Brash was the first to point out that Hobson’s Pledge was not involved and while Mr O’Donnell said they agreed to post an amended story there is no information before the Media Council to confirm this was done.”

The council also says, while acknowledging the errors in its story, Waatea News attempted to deflect its responsibility by suggesting the complainant should seek an apology from Mr Mikaere.

“Waatea News fell way short of its journalistic obligations. It failed to check basic facts before publication, was slow to respond to complaints and it failed to publish a correction promptly when it knew mistakes had been made, and the story has still not been corrected,” the council said in its decision which was issued on 19 November.

As well as upholding the complaint, the Media Council said it expected the story to be corrected immediately.