The Press Council has considered a complaint about an article in the Mosman Daily on 12 December 2013. The article was headed "Save our park" on the front page and continued on page 5 under the heading, "Open space is worth saving – Mack backs park group as study gets ok". It concerned proposals for an indoor sports centre and car park underneath St Leonards Park in Sydney.
The main heading on the front page was followed by a single sentence: “A community campaign to save public open space in St Leonards Park has ramped up as councillors push ahead with a feasibility study for an indoor sports centre.” An accompanying photograph showed two women in the park with a caption saying they “don’t want a sports centre at St Leonards Park”. The full report began with views expressed by former North Sydney Mayor, Ted Mack, when opposing the proposal at a meeting of North Sydney Council earlier that week. There was also a photograph of five people with a caption stating they “are among the residents fighting to preserve open space at St Leonards Park”.
A North Sydney Councillor, MaryAnn Beregi, complained to the Press Council that the very prominent headings implied the Council had decided to proceed with the sports centre and that parkland would be lost, but in fact the Council had only commissioned a feasibility study and the proposal was not even at the stage of a Development Application. She also said Mr Mack’s comments could lead readers to believe his suggestion buildings could be erected on the parkland itself, but councillors at the meeting had pointed out the proposal involved building under the park.
Cr Beregi said the article lacked balance because it included comments from Mr Mack and a resident complaining about lack of transparency and consultation but no comments from councillors supporting the study. She said letters criticising the proposal had been published but she had not been contacted for comment or had her own letter published, even though she was the Chair of the committee that proposed the study.
The publication said readers would not have been misled about the proposal as the front page referred explicitly to it as “a feasibility study” and the sub-heading on page 5 referred to it as a “study”. Also, the article said “the council voted to push ahead with the feasibility study”, and that “the feasibility study will examine a concept by [the] architect”, before adding: “Community consultations will take place when a concept has been developed”. The publication said the article explained the proposal was for underground facilities “with a landscaped roof featuring sporting courts”, and that opponents wanted to retain the park for “passive recreation”.
The publication said Mr Mack’s comments were the most newsworthy development at the time of the article and a councillor had declined an invitation to comment. It said Cr Beregi’s letter arrived after the deadline for publication of that issue, but shortly before and after it had published letters from councillors supporting the study, one of which covered many of the points raised by Cr Beregi. Her views had already been mentioned twice in recent online articles, including her explanation that the proposal “was still in the initial concept stage and would not progress if the study revealed the majority of residents did not want it”.
The Press Council’s Principles require that publications take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced. The Council has concluded that the headlines and the article itself made it clear the proposal was only a feasibility study of facilities to be built underground, and that community consultation would occur. Earlier articles and letters had presented the views of supporters of the proposal, and it was reasonable also to report the views of a community group campaigning against it and those of Mr Mack. It may have been preferable to include a comment from Cr Beregi herself, as the Chair of the committee, but she had previously been quoted and the article provided sufficient balance without that inclusion.
Accordingly, the complaint is not upheld.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the Council’s General Principle 1: “Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced.”