New Zealand Law Society - Press Council considers complaint against tweet

Press Council considers complaint against tweet

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The Press Council has considered a complaint by Rodney Hide that an article published by the New Zealand Herald about High Court proceedings involving David Henderson was unfair and inaccurate.

The Council did not uphold the complaint. However, it upheld a second complaint by Mr Hide, about a tweet by the author of the article, but noted that appropriate action had been taken to remedy it.

The Council says this is one of the first times it has been asked to consider a complaint against a tweet.

The article was published on 16 January 2016 and reported and commented on the proceedings. Before publication Mr Hide was consulted by the author and explained his views on the proceedings and their effect.

The Council says the article gives brief details of the background to the proceedings before reporting on remarks made by Associate Judge Osborne both in hearing, and in allowing "an application by the Official Assignee to lift a non-publication order and in the earlier proceedings to which the non-publication order related."

The article went on to report comments by Mr Hide and by the parties to the proceedings.

Referring to the earlier proceedings, the article said "But this hearing, undercutting many of Hide's claims, was suppressed and covered by a non-publication order...."

On 13 January the author of the article tweeted "Short write-up of court ruling morphed into 1600-word Greek-style epic featuring crimes, c*nts, lulz and ex-MPs. In @nzheraldbiz Saturday."

Mr Hide complained that it was untrue to say his claims were undercut. He said the pre-publication tweet lacked accuracy, fairness and balance, and was offensive and displaying a lack of professionalism by a senior journalist.

The Press Council said that factual material published by the media must be fair, accurate and balanced, but the standard is different for opinion material "so long as it is clearly presented as such".

"The article in question was not an opinion piece. However, in reporting on complex and contentious issues in an area where complete comprehension requires specialist knowledge – and this is such a case – it is inevitable that even when not expressing an opinion reporters will select, shape and interpret their material to make it meaningful to their readers. Simplification is not necessarily inaccuracy, and the fact that the reporter did not enumerate Mr Hide's claims and the arguments for and against them before saying generally that they were undercut does not amount to inaccuracy."

The Council says the complaint about the tweet is one of the first times it has been called on to determine a complaint about this form of communication.

"The tweet was effectively advance publicity for the article in the same way that a poster or headline is advance publicity, with the difference that the tweet was made before the article was in final form and did not go through any sort of editorial process.," it says. 

"However, it was clearly made by the reporter in his capacity as a reporter for the New Zealand Herald and the editor has properly taken some responsibility for it and reminded the reporter of his obligations. Moreover the tweet has been deleted, although apparently it remained accessible for some weeks."

The Council says that the same standards apply to a tweet of this nature as apply to other published material.

It says the tweet was unprofessional in its inaccuracy and use of unacceptable language and certainly did not conform to the highest professional standards.