The Press Council has now released its decision on the complaints laid against the Herald about Rachel Glucina’s reporting of Amanda Bailey’s story. The complaint was essentially that Glucina had obtained statements from Bailey by subterfuge by claiming that she was acting in her capacity as a PR consultant and not as a reporter. Of course the context is Glucina’s close association with John Key and the complete inappropriateness of her advising Bailey in how to handle her complaint about Key’s ponytail pulling antics.
The Council has found that a breach of Principle 10 of the Press Council’s statement of principles. This principle states:
To fulfil their proper watchdog role, publications must be independent and free of obligations to their news sources. They should avoid any situations that might compromise such independence. Where a story is enabled by sponsorship, gift or financial inducement, that sponsorship, gift or financial inducement should be declared. Where an author’s link to a subject is deemed to be justified, the relationship of author to subject should be declared.
The decision is very narrow in that the Council has decided that Glucina’s failure to acknowledge that her brother provided PR advice to Amanda Bailey’s employers was a breach of the standard. The Council did not think that her relationship with John Key was relevant as that relationship was publicly known even though the Council had “some concerns about the amount of comment that is at least implicitly critical of Ms Bailey as against the six short paragraphs setting out her views”.
The decision raises some interesting issues. Editor Tim Murphy claims that Rachel Glucina does not work in PR, nor does she have PR clients. The decision noted that Glucina’s linked in page states she does work in PR.
The relevant findings of the Council are in the following passage:
30. There are a few facts which appear to be clear:
• Ms Bailey had made her story public through The Daily Blog without revealing her identity. It is reasonable to assume that at that stage she wished to remain anonymous and that at all times she had concerns about being identified.
• there was no direct contact between Ms Glucina and Ms Bailey before or after the interview. It appears that all contact was through Ms Bailey’s employers. Nor was there any direct contact between Ms Bailey and any representative of the NZ Herald between the conclusion of the interview and the publication of the article.
• there was at the very least some initial confusion over the basis on which Ms Glucina approached Ms Bailey and her employers. While NZ Herald has stated that she is a Herald reporter, does not work in PR and has no PR clients, her Linked-in profile refers to her as director of a PR company and specifies PR work as one of its functions. Linked-in is generally regarded as a platform for the advertising of services.
• It seems very likely that Ms Bailey’s employers, who were already acquainted with Ms Glucina, knew of her PR skills and were comfortable with the idea that she would help produce a media statement that would help counter any possible damage to the reputation of their business. There seems to have been no clear distinction between the journalistic and the PR aspects of the proposed article.
• There was also confusion over the nature of the article Ms Glucina proposed to write. Both Ms Bailey, and her employers, understood that she would prepare a general statement that would be released to all media. Certainly in relaying the content of his conversation with the café owners, Mr Currie acknowledges that they “said they had thought their and the waitress’ words would be issued to all media”.
31. On the basis of these facts, the Press Council cannot rule out the possibility of a genuine misunderstanding in the first instance about the nature of Ms Glucina’s approach and of the article she proposed to write. However once the interview was taking place, the onus was on Ms Glucina as a professional media person to make the position completely clear to all parties, particularly to Ms Bailey, with whom she had had no previous contact, who was in a vulnerable position, and whose interests could well have been in conflict with those of the café owners.
32. Even if Ms Bailey’s employers were aware that she proposed to write an article exclusively for the NZ Herald (and it seems likely they were not) Ms Glucina could not delegate to them her obligation to be sure that she had Ms Bailey’s fully informed consent to the proposed publication, especially in view of the earlier anonymous publication. On the contrary, her obligation was all the greater because she had not been privy to the conversations between Ms Bailey and her employers in setting up the interview.
33. By the time the interview had been concluded, all parties should have been quite clear about the nature of the article that was to be written. They certainly had concerns about the likely content, resulting in a departure from usual journalistic practice in the agreement to submit quotes to them for checking for accuracy. There is an element of subterfuge in Ms Glucina’s failure to ensure that they all knew she proposed to write an exclusive article for the NZ Herald.
a findings of inappropriate action by Glucina has have been made although on a very narrow and very unsatisfactory basis. The use of one of Key’s fan club to publish someone’s identity and start the undermining process should not be acceptable behaviour by our main stream media.
Update: there is a second decision that finds “there were elements of subterfuge in the NZ Herald’s dealings with Ms Bailey along with a failure to act fairly towards her”. So there are two distinct findings, one that the principle against subterfuge has been breached and one that the principle of independence has been breached.