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Media Council upholds Anglican Church complaint against WTA

Reverend Peter Hull complained about a Wairarapa Times-Age story which he said falsely stated the St Francis of Assisi church in Kahutara was for sale.

On 10th September, a front-page article in the newspaper was headlined For Sale… ‘The soul of the community’.

The article was published online on September 12 with the headline: For Sale… St Francis of Assisi Church – ‘The soul of the community’.

The article said the church’s fate was to be decided at a special general meeting the next day where only parish roll votes would count.

It included information from the meeting’s agenda, including reasons to begin the process of selling the church. Motions included selling the church and making a
10 per cent tithe to a Diocesan fund.

Distraught residents were quoted, including one who said a petition was being launched to save the church being sold “for the profit of the Martinborough Vestry’’.

Rev. Hull said the headline stating the church was for sale was false. While the process for selling had started at the parish level, the final decision was yet to be taken by the Anglican Diocese of Wellington Board of Trustees.

He said the story was biased, unfair and inaccurate because the paper had failed to seek comment from the parish vestry representative while it contained other comments that were misleading.

The story also omitted reference to a third agenda motion to give 10 per cent of the sale proceeds to a local school.

In response, the Wairarapa Times-Age said the story previewed a meeting the next day and focused on the community’s reaction to the meeting agenda.

Agenda details were considered the vestry’s voice in the story. The paper said it planned further stories about the issue with comment from both sides and that accuracy, fairness, and balance had to be judged over the series of stories.

The paper stood by its print headline but offered to change the online headline.

The paper was comfortable with its sources, and that balance had been provided in both stories. Reference to the agenda item that 10 per cent of sale proceeds would be donated to the local school had been cut for space reasons, and there was no bias involved.

The Media Council said local residents had every right to express their views, but the Wairarapa Times-Age was obliged to put all relevant comments to the church vestry and give it a right of reply in order to achieve fairness and balance in the story. Information from an agenda did not meet this principle.

This was the first story about the issue. It was not yet a long-running story, so the article complained about needed to provide balance by itself.

The Council said both headlines imply the church is for sale when the church said it was not.

The full Media Council ruling can be found on its website https://www.mediacouncil.org.nz/

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