So that you can have confidence in Pundit's commitment to accuracy, fairness and integrity, we've joined the New Zealand Press Council and will now we held accountable by an independent body

You might have noticed in recent days the logo of the New Zealand Press Council has appeared on our homepage. That's because our concerns about the quality of political and current affairs debate online have led us to joining the council.

In fact, apart from a small local site on the Coromandel, we are the first website to be accepted. 

At the end of October last year the Council announced it would be accepting digital media as members. Its press release said:

Council executive committee chair Rick Neville said the council and its stakeholders had taken this step in recognition of the significant expansion and diversification of media platforms in New Zealand.

Requests will be considered by the executive committee which will assess applicants’ ability to meet membership criteria including those relating to accuracy, fairness, balance, independence and integrity. 

So we applied to become an associate member of the council and in February were accepted "with great pleasure".

The Press Council is trying to expand the ethical standards demanded of the print media into the bloggersphere and, given some of the issues that Nicky Hager revealed in Dirty Politics last year – and in the subsequent news coverage – we think that can only be a good thing.

The Council's Executive Director Mary Major put it well:

Why join the Press Council? Well I guess the main reason is that it tells your readers that you adhere to ethical standards for the work posted, and that you are prepared to accept the scrutiny of an independent body. It also allows you recognition of the Court in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act see s198 and s210 in the attached excerpt. As a regulator our process is cheap, quick and non-legal.

This is how the Council describes that process:

"The key point is that any prospective complainant must take the complaint to you, in writing, in the first instance so that you have the opportunity to resolve the issue. In practice most complaints are resolved at this level... [but] the Press Council operates rather as an appeal body for those complaints that haven't been able to be resolved.

Hopefully, other blogs will consider following suit.

 

We have very few complaints at the moment in large part because of the tone we've set on the site (and work hard to maintain) and the decency and integrity of those who write for and read Pundit. But if you have any issues, you now have an appeal process beyond Andrew, Eleanor and me.

As always, thanks for clicking your way here and contributing to the discussion.

Comments (13)

by mudfish on March 16, 2015
mudfish

Well done Pundit.

Will this mean any change to the current mix of reporting, commentary, opinion and prediction? I hope not, I quite like it (although the breadth of topics has perhaps been a little more limited in the last year or so than previously?).

by Tim Watkin on March 16, 2015
Tim Watkin

Hi mudfish,

No, no change intended and hopefully we won't have to bother the Press Council much, if at all. It's simply sticking our colours to the mast that, even though you would still first come to us and probably resolve any issues, we're happy to be held to account by an independent body. In other words, trying to show that standards matter.

Yeah, the election narrowed us a little, but hopefully we'll broaden out as time, imagination and life allows.

by Fentex on March 17, 2015
Fentex

I don't find this something to be proud of, I think such things are antithetical to the concept of blogging (I therefore presume 'blog' is an accurate description of Pundit).

If Pundit had worthy standards it adhered it needed no external body to impose them.

And having submitted it's standards to an external body all I notice is an announcement of reduction in independence.

For what end? Did Pundits contributors feel guilty? Do they believe in a need for sanctioning by authority to be taken credibly, their writings, theses or argument unworthy in their own right?

It reminds me of a discussion I once had with my mother. My parents owning a back section were asked by the neighbour in front, between them and the road, for a legal easement of the driveway to my parents so they would have guaranteed access to the rear of their property (their own driveway being awkwardly placed to do so).

My parents had never had a problem with their neighbours using their driveway to access a door in the fence bordering it to access neighbours rear sections and take away garbage or deliver things.

It was obvious to me and my sister immediately that the only reason someone could ask for this easement would be to make subdividing their property practical and building what would have to a two story building on it's rear.

Such a building would overlook my parents home and their barbecue area. So we immediately advised them against cooperating.

"But they promised it would be an agreement forbidding subdividing." argued my parents.

To which we replied anything one lawyer can promise another lawyer can break, especially if it were planned.

And here's the topical point to my story...

I pointed out to my parents that this was matter of trust - either they were to trust their neighbour would not abuse their cooperation or their neighbour must trust they would not forbid him access via their driveway.

If you know you're trustworthy, why place unnecessary trust in another?

by Fentex on March 17, 2015
Fentex

To expand on that - what happens if Pundit disagrees with the Press Council? What if Pundit thinks an opinion piece is a necessary matter of conscience but the Press council rules it improper as the result of a complaint?

Do you pull the piece or leave the council?

The thing is if you don't mean to publish improper work and are willing to respond to worthwhile complaints why do you need someone else you may disagree with to tell you what to do?

If you mean well they're of no use, if they mean wrong (or are merely mistaken) it's a millstone.

by Charlie on March 17, 2015
Charlie

Interesting that reference is made to the 'dirty politics' issue, when in fact some of the dirtiest tactics were those used by people who were professional journalists and likely already Press Council associates.

As time rolls on, the truth will out: Already most of Hager's nastier claims have been shown to be false, he still awaits his day in court over his use of stolen property, Kim and Mona look to have perjured themselves and Banks has been proven innocent, as anyone who knows him knew he would be.

[Ed: If you are going to potentially defame someone on our site (claiming that Nicky Hager published "nast[y] claims" that were "false"), we'd prefer some evidence be provided. And the insinuation that he is facing some sort of judicial sanction for "us[ing] stolen property" is flat out wrong - he's challenging the use of a search warrant against him as a witness and not as a potential defendant.

We apply standards to our commentators as well as to what we write. breaching these attracts consequences. Please don't do it again.]

by Andrew Geddis on March 17, 2015
Andrew Geddis

@Fentex,

I suggested to Tim that we join for a number of reasons.

First of all, we can do so. 

Second, the principles that the Council lays down are ones that we approve of and respect. It's not imposing on us from the outside anything that we don't already internally believe to be good practice.

Third, by joining we put our money (I think $100 a year) where our mouths are. We think blogging - quality blogging, that is, as opposed to stuff certain persons whom we choose not to name attempt - ought to be dependable and follow certain rules in order to earn respect. This is our way of walking our talk. 

Fourth, the line between "blogging" and "real media" is getting thinner and thinner. Note, for instance, that a number of Punditeers are journalist types trying a different form of writing. And on a number of occasions the work that first appeared on Pundit has been picked up and run with in old-school media reports (with or without attribution). 

Finally, it gives us the chance to sneer at other blogs and deride them for their failure to be as good and upright netizens as we are. Yeah, Public Address and Kiwiblog, I'm looking at you. What happened to this and this?

On your question of what happens if we should happen to be on the end of a Press Council ruling? Well, we'd publish that ruling on Pundit for everyone to read and assess for themselves. The original item that attracted the negative ruling also would remain on our site (albeit with an updated link to the Council's opinion). So there's no censorship here - just an external set of eyes that may, in a situation where we get things wrong and fail to properly assess our own behaviour, provide a reminder that if we're going to do this blogging thing, we should do it properly.

by Flat Eric on March 17, 2015
Flat Eric

I see the Principles of the Press Council include the following:

Everyone is normally entitled to privacy of person, space and personal information, and these rights should be respected by publications. Nevertheless the right of privacy should not interfere with publication of significant matters of public record or public interest. (Emphasis added).

Andrew notes above that even in the event of an adverse ruling by the Press Council (say in relation to an article that published material obtained through a breach of someone's right to privacy in pursuit of what the author deemed was the 'public interest' and where the Press Council concluded that in fact there was no 'public interest' in the publication of the private material) the offending article, including the material obtained in breach of someone's right to privacy, would remain on the site.

So that's comforting.

Oh, and Andrew, you might like to look here.

 

by Andrew Geddis on March 17, 2015
Andrew Geddis

@Flat Eric,

In the extraordinarily unlikely situation that Pundit should ever breach anyone's right to privacy through commenting on things that already are in the media, I assure you we shall remove the offending material from our site. Feel better now?

Oh, and Andrew, you might like to look here.

Urk! I see that Kiwiblog has signed up to the Online Media Standards Authority! I partially withdraw and apologise for my previous comments ... while pointing out that OMSA is in no way as cool and credible as the Press Council.

by mudfish on March 17, 2015
mudfish

Fentex, there are blogs and there are blogs. This is one I find worth returning to for its overall balanced approach, variety of topics and opinions and for its credibility. For me, joining the Press Council reinforces and enhances credibility so goes some way to distinguish it from the rest.

by Charlie on March 18, 2015
Charlie

Well this is interesting!  I get accused of defamation because I didn't present evidence of my claims. 

Phew! Lucky I'm not a journalist eh?

Ask yourself how many of Hager's claims were backed by evidence.

[Ed: There's a book. It's called Dirty Politics. At the back it has copious footnotes referencing the sources for the claims therein. Hence, no-one has sued Mr Hager for defamation. See how it works?]

by Tim Watkin on March 23, 2015
Tim Watkin

Fentex, sorry about the slow reply. While I appreciate the thoroughness of your argument, your logic means there would be no need for a police force, courts or even a referee in a sports game. There would be no need for a rule of law at all under the theory to describe. Yes, ideally we'd all work on trust. But that ignores the reality of human fallibility and difference of opinions.

We certainly have no intention to write anything "unworthy" or "improper". But we might err. Or we might think we're trustworthy, but someone else may disagree. So we submit to some form of accountability and create a referee so it's not just another online argument.

I think Pundit's standards and tone are as good as any on NZ blogs, but all the more reason for us to set an example and say that there are standards we should be held to account for.

This may sound idealistic or patronising, but there are other blogs where more improper and unworthy things are written, so it's good for those of us who care about such standards to help establish a rule of law that raises the bar. Perhaps only those who care will join and those who don't care, won't. But this is the way a rule of law comes about... you create a critical mass and people are expected to behave properly or else be sanctioned.

 

by Tim Watkin on March 23, 2015
Tim Watkin

Thanks mudfish.

Hey Charlie, still waiting for that evidence.

by Fentex on March 28, 2015
Fentex

While I appreciate the thoroughness of your argument, your logic means there would be no need for a police force, courts or even a referee in a sports game

I don't think this is true - police and courts involve activities unlike self publishing we do not choose our involvement with, and regarding sports I have played many, many games of different kinds by choice without referees.

A counter to your analogy (which I think is inappropriate) is to apply it in the opposite direction - we should have police and courts involved in everything we do (what clothes I wear - don't want to breach community standards - what breakfast I eat - don't want to consume regulated goods improperly).

I think Pundit's standards and tone are as good as any on NZ blogs, but all the more reason for us to set an example and say that there are standards we should be held to account for.

Posting a code of standards, perhaps one suggested by the Press Council, against which your behaviour may be judged and complaints registered simply sounds like thoughtful preparation.

It's the bit about 'joining' that I wouldn't do. The idea that...

 there are other blogs where more improper and unworthy things are written, so it's good for those of us who care about such standards to help establish a rule of law that raises the bar.

...is what bugs me. Establish a rule of law, eh?

The first time I heard about the Press Council's expansion to blogging I wrote that I thought it sounded a little like the beginning of regulation of online 'speech', and now we have a law before government suggesting up to five years imprisonment for writing that offends people.

I wonder where, and who, will establish the standards that's measured against?

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