Just feeling failed by the NZ Herald and its ability to call out supposed lies with impunity.
Here is the correspondence in relation to a recent complaint. Most unsatisfactory but a waste of time to go on or not? Any advice? The Herald’s responses to my email are in red. I note that Mike Hosking also accused the government of lying using similar misleading information on the same day. Not a good day for information journalism from the NZ Herald.
5 April 2018
To New Zealand Herald letters page
Thank you for your prompt response.
When I wrote yesterday I was unaware that there were two taxes – the excise and the regional tax – and as the article did not make that clear (although the accompanying video did when I watched it this evening). I understood Ms Du Plessis Allen to be addressing the issue of the regional tax, when in fact she was writing about the excise. Hence my comment about the calculation in the article.
However having done further background work this evening I maintain that the article (and the video) are misleading as a commentary on the excise. I am a member of the public seeking to be informed by good journalism. This article was not clear, as I outlined in my previous email.
My revised complaint rests on the following premises:
1. Factual inaccuracy – The article claims that the excise is a new tax and breaches an election promise, when in fact the Labour Party’s manifesto policy stated clearly that “Alcohol, Petrol and Tobacco Levies – will be adjusted as per normal government practice and as set out in Budget documents”. See http://www.labour.org.nz/tax They are proposing to raise that tax, subject to consultation, by between 9 and 12 cents a litre over the next three years. As a matter of interest, by changing the Customs and Excise Act in 2013 to allow itself to increase the Petrol Excise Duty (by 3c per annum over 3 years) in order to fund Roads of National Significance, the previous goverment effectively created the “normal government practice.”
Heather’s opinion column states her belief that the Government’s decision to introduce a new petrol tax is inconsistent with the party’s claim during the election that no new taxes would be added. Specifically, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said at the time: “There will be no new taxes or levies introduced in our first term of government beyond those we have already announced.”
During the campaign Labour confirmed it would support a regional Auckland petrol tax, but it did not give any indication of a fresh petrol tax. Such a tax is introduced only at the government’s discretion and this government announced this week that it planned to do so. As a seasoned political reporter and columnist Heather’s column articulates her reasoning that a fuel excise constitutes a new tax. As noted by National leader Simon Bridges, officials regularly recommend petrol excise increases but it is for the government of the day to decide to implement them.
2. Lack of balance – It failed to make any mention of the extensive polling showing that New Zealanders, and Aucklanders in particular, are in favour of more spending on different approaches and including some evidence that people were happy to pay such a tax. I would have thought that a responsible journalist would investigate public sentiment, including willingness to pay for better services, before jumping to the conclusion that “Labour has lost the 2020 election” which is to stretch a long bow rather tightly.
In an opinion column Heather is not required to be balanced, she has the ability to discuss political announcements and to offer her opinion and analysis on how government policy decisions are likely to be received by the public. There is no requirement for her to consult previous surveys of public opinion in order to offer her opinion.
3. In the associated video the interviewer says in a vox pop interview “so what do you feel about Labour breaking an election promise?” However as I have shown today and yesterday both implementing a regional tax and increases under the national excise on fuel were part of Labour’s 2017 election manifesto. Same answer to point 1.
4. In its calculations the article refers to paying $2.30 instead of $2.10. How does $2.10 plus a maximum of 12c get to equal $2.30? As previously explained, the 20-cent increase relates to an imposition of the Auckland regional fuel tax of 10c and the 9-12c now proposed nationwide by the government.
5. If you plan to use the defence that “this was an opinion piece” then it should have been clearly labelled as opinion, which it was not. The article was clearly labelled opinion, was homed in the opinion section of the website, contain the author’s name in the headline to denote it as an opinion column and the byline states: “Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday”