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We welcome fair critique

Carterton Mayor Ron Mark isn’t happy about Friday’s editorial – titled ‘We depend on openness’.

The piece referenced last week’s gathering in Carterton at which Police Minister Mark Mitchell, senior police officers, and Mark discussed the accelerating ‘boy racer’ problem in the district with residents who have been directly impacted, and simply posed the question of whether it was appropriate that the Times-Age was barred from attending.

In response, Mark has made the following critique of the editorial on his public Facebook page:

“So, when innocent law-abiding families living in isolated rural communities who have repeatedly been threatened, terrorised, and intimidated at all hours of the night, by an organised criminal group are given a private meeting with Police Commanders and the Minister responsible for protecting them, in a safe environment where their anonymity is guaranteed, media say that’s wrong. That they should be allowed to be present. No doubt so they can identify them, photograph them, and report who said what about who.

“But when media want to talk to the leaders of the criminals responsible, they are quite happy to meet with them secretly, guarantee them anonymity, and to decline my request for the names and contact details of these criminals.

“No wonder the level of trust and confidence in media has reached an all-time low globally.”

First, yes, trust in media worldwide has taken a beating in recent years, and while the reasons are sufficiently complex to require a standalone editorial to enumerate, one can’t blame that growing distrust entirely on the dreaded ‘disinformation’ and ‘conspiracy theorists’. On occasion, media outlets do earn the public’s suspicion., but in the context of this particular issue, this seems like an extraneous cheap shot.

On a more substantive note, Mark’s assumption that, should the Times-Age have been allowed to attend, we’d have willy-nilly the published names and photos of the concerned citizens there – while allowing ‘boy racer gang’ spokespeople a cloak of secrecy – doesn’t stand up to more than a moment’s scrutiny.

Times-Age reporters routinely give private citizens the opportunity to speak off the record [ie, to anonymously provide comment for publication or even background information that won’t be published] because we fully appreciate that when living in a tiny community, publicly putting your head above the parapet can be difficult.

On this particular issue, for eg, the Times-Age has: allowed the ‘boy racers’ to remain nameless because they wouldn’t have otherwise spoken to us and it was important to allow readers to make up their own minds about what they had to say; preserved the anonymity of a resident who provided details of the motorised mayhem on December 30; and did not publish the names or photos of any non-official people who attended a related public meeting at Gladstone earlier this month. We would’ve absolutely done the same regarding last week’s meeting if we’d been given the chance.

Furthermore, although we have a pretty shrewd idea of the source of the communication snafu that meant the Times-Age was essentially invited to the Carterton meeting before the offer was revoked, we won’t be publishing any specifics, because the information was provided in an off-record context. See how that works?

Like all media, the Times-Age isn’t above reproach on occasion, but it’d be great if those publicly berating us applied the same standard of accuracy to their claims that they rightly expect of us.

1 COMMENT

  1. Being particularly smug about your own alleged professional ethics does not detract from the main point that Ron Mark was making. The risk of being misreported is zero if people choose not to talk to the media. It is a freedom of choice thing – nothing sinister. Your editorial writer may wish to ask him/her/their self why Mr Mark and others are now both wary and sceptical of New Zealand media.

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