Print watchdog rules lack of balance’ in Airways story

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The country’s print media watchdog has upheld an Airways Corporation complaint against Mountain Scene on one count – lack of balance. 

Airways complained to the New Zealand Press Council claiming three articles in March and April didn’t just lack balance but were inaccurate, inflammatory and biased. 

Airways also complained about the headlines, captions and a correction. In its six-page complaint detailing 19 points, Airways claimed the articles could impact confidence in Queenstown air traffic control by implying risks that didn’t exist. 

The first article – headlined “Sacked air controller fears for safety in the skies” – related to claims by ex-controller Pamela Adams. 

The second – “Pilot rarks up CAA” – repeated the claims. A third article – “Airways irate over ‘Tower Trouble’ ” – summarised an Airways complaint about the first story, contained Mountain Scene rebuttal and corrected Mountain Scene errors. 

Airways’ Press Council complaint noted it spent considerable time speaking to a Mountain Scene reporter prior to publication and warned the newspaper it needed solid evidence. Airways claimed this advice was ignored and the newspaper was irresponsible. 

In response, Mountain Scene pointed out evidence backing its March 11 report and items of dispute. 

Mountain Scene also noted many statements Airways took issue with were clearly Adams’ opinions – not statements of fact. Further, referring to Adams as a “sacked air controller” indicated she was “unlikely to be trumpeting the virtues of her former employer”. 

The Press Council decision says Mountain Scene’s reporter phoned Airways before the first article to put many of the allegations to it and was told to contact other agencies to back up claims and get evidence, which the reporter didn’t do. 

The Press Council says while it’s important for a newspaper to obtain balance, an organisation facing allegations runs the risk of misreporting if it suggests a reporter should go elsewhere for answers. 

“This appears to have happened here,” the decision says. 

Overall, the Press Council says the story was a matter of public interest, Mountain Scene was entitled to publish Adams’ opinions and the only issue is whether the newspaper failed to ensure balance. 

The Press Council found balance lacking in important aspects and allegations in the second article were not put to Airways prior to publication, which should have been done. 

“The correcting article did not go far enough. In some respects, it reinforced the lack of balance. 

“The Council upholds the complaint on the grounds of lack of balance. 

“In an article likely to inflame views, the newspaper had a responsibility to obtain greater balance even if that meant delaying publication.”