A complaint against the Herald on Sunday by Andi Brotherston, wife of TVNZ's Rugby World Cup front man Martin Devlin, has been substantially upheld by the New Zealand Press Council.
Brotherston, a TVNZ staff member, complained that an article in the paper, about her behaviour towards a blogger who had published a piece on her husband, was inaccurate and lacked fairness and balance.
The Herald on Sunday published the story on June 5 under the heading, "Wife in strife at threats."
The article said Brotherston was facing questions over how her work hours were spent following an "online spat" between her and blogger Jacqui Sperling.
Brotherston claimed the story was incorrect and said she was not given the opportunity to provide comment prior to publication. She received a text about 9.15pm the night prior to the story from the reporter, which she read the next day. She did not realise it was a formal request for comment.
Brotherston said a comment from her employer was taken out of context and gave the impression that she had behaved in an unprofessional manner. It implied that she was in trouble with her employer, which was incorrect.
She said an email exchange between her and the blogger contradicted the image portrayed by the article. She said the emails showed she did not threaten the blogger with legal action and that the blogger said she would take the post down immediately as she had written it as a joke.
The Herald on Sunday conceded the headline was misleading and offered to run a clarification in a later edition but Brotherston said that did not go far enough. She also alleged the Herald on Sunday had colluded with a rival paper, the Sunday Star-Times, over the article.
Response from the newspaper
The editor for the Herald on Sunday acknowledged the headline was neither fair nor accurate but stated that the story itself was correct.
He said that the blogger believed that the story accurately reflected her interaction with Brotherston and he provided a copy of emails between her and the reporter. They said she believed a threat of legal action was implied by Brotherston should the post not be removed.
The editor also said that no one in management at TVNZ had complained about their comments being misrepresented.
The Herald on Sunday acknowledged that the headline was neither fair nor accurate. Despite the fact the newspaper did offer Brotherston a published clarification, it is important that a headline accurately reflects the article when it is published.
The inference in the headline and article was that Brotherston was "facing questions" at work over "how her work hours are spent" because she had contacted the blogger during work time. There was no evidence in the article to substantiate this inference. In fact, the article quoted a TVNZ spokeswoman who stated, "It's not an issue of consequence", which belied any such inference.
In regard to the alleged threat of legal action being taken against the blogger, though Brotherston stated she made no such threats, the perception of the blogger was that a threat was implied during what she saw as a heated conversation. The newspaper was using information from the blogger and this was her perception.
In describing Brotherston as "angry" in her interaction with the blogger, the Herald on Sunday used information from the blogger herself. This was confirmed by the blogger in an email to the newspaper in which she outlined her feelings.
Brotherston may not think she came across as angry and intimidating, but this was clearly the perception of the blogger.
Brotherston's complaint regarding inaccuracy concerning her interactions and behaviour with the blogger are not upheld.
The Press Council, however, does not see a text sent at 9.15pm on a Saturday, when the newspaper was to be published the next morning, as a reasonable attempt to seek comment. If a newspaper intends to publish unfavourable comment about a person, they should make a reasonable attempt to contact that person prior to publication. The wording of the text was not adequate.
While there was some public interest aspect in the story, the headline is incorrect and the story could have been better reported by the newspaper.
The complaint is upheld on the grounds that:
* It contained inferences relating to Brotherston's employment situation which were incorrect.
* The headline did not reflect the information in the story and this is acknowledged by the newspaper.
* The newspaper did not make a reasonable attempt to contact Brotherston for comment.