New Zealand Law Society - Newspaper articles were not independent rules Press Council

Newspaper articles were not independent rules Press Council

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The Press Council has upheld a complaint against a Sunday newspaper that a series of articles were advertorial and not independent content.

The articles, written by business coach Zac de Silva, appeared in the Sunday Star-Times and on Stuff in June and July under the ‘Nurture Change’ tagline.  Each article introduced a New Zealand leader who would be speaking at a business retreat in Fiji and featured the chance for readers to win “scholarships” to attend the event.

A complaint was made about the articles being displayed as news stories when there were commercial relationships between the author of the articles, its subject and the newspaper. The complainant, Tom Frewen, believed the articles should have been labelled as an advertisement or, at the very least, as advertorial.

The Press Council says the Sunday Star-Times gained content and four “scholarships”, while the author was granted prominent space to write about an event from which he would profit. Principle 10 states that newspapers must be independent of their sources to be good watchdogs and where a story is enabled by gift, sponsorship or financial inducement, it should be declared. 

Meanwhile, the Press Council has upheld a complaint against an independent newspaper, the Waikato Weekly, that two reports on the Falun Gong were unfair and unbalanced.

However, it threw out a complaint that the claim that Falun Gong is a cult.

John Chen of the Falun Dafa Association of New Zealand complained that the reports in the April 13 issue breached principles of accuracy, fairness and balance, presented opinion as fact and were written from a conflict of interest that was not declared.

Mr Chen complained that the articles were severely critical of the Falun Gong, describing it as a cult carrying out “despicable and disgraceful actions”, seeking to harass and sabotage the Chinese Government and its friendly relations with New Zealand. The articles suggested its Shen Yun stage show had the same political purpose.

In its decision, the Press Council found it fair to describe Falun Gong as a cult. But the Council found the articles to be unfair and unbalanced because they sought no views from the group and gave it no right of reply.

It says the articles were presented as factual reports though they were highly opinionated. Items of opinion do not need to observe the rules of fairness and balance expected of a factual report, but they must be clearly labelled as opinion and identify whose opinion it is.