The Press Council has upheld a complaint from Warren Davidson against a front-page article headlined "Report clears council of abuse" published in the Wairarapa Times-Age on March 2.
The article was accompanied by a large photo with Mr Davidson in the foreground. Mr Davidson, a former Tararua District councillor, quit his position last year after what the newspapers described as "bullying and unacceptable behaviour" by the mayor and council's CEO.
His resignation sparked a Local Government New Zealand review of the council's governance processes, which were found to be fit for purpose and consistent with well-performing rural councils. Some recommendations, however, were made.
Significantly, the review did not look at whether Mr Davidson's reasons for his resignation were accurate or not.
Mr Davidson says the headline is inaccurate because the LGNZ report did not cover the allegations, rather it only looked at process. The story was also unfair because he was not aware the "angle" was to be that the council was cleared and so was not given proper opportunity to comment. His viewpoint was taken out of context, he said.
On receipt of the complaint, the editor "neutralised" the online headline to "Findings of council probe released" and offered Mr Davidson a second interview/story, a remedy he saw as substantial. He refused to print a correction in the newspaper because there wasn't anything "fundamentally wrong" with it. Regardless of LGNZ not addressing Mr Davidson's allegations of bullying and abuse, it was "a basic cause and effect" that the report was sparked by those very things.
The Press Council found that the headline on the Times-Age story was fundamentally wrong. It is incorrect to say the LGNZ report cleared the council of abuse. Whether the LGNZ report was sparked by Mr Davidson's allegations of abuse or not, it did not review or rule on them in any way.
The full Press Council decision is available at www.presscouncil.org.nz.