Received from Russell Garbutt
15 July 2014 at 4:30 PM
What is an advertisement, and what content of an advertisement needs to be able to be verified?
Readers of the Otago Daily Times, and followers of the on-going stadium debate which shows no signs of lessening in its intensity may be intrigued to know just where the sensitivities of the ODT lie.
Let us look at some simple facts which cannot be in dispute.
The Carisbrook Stadium Trust which was acting as an agent of the Dunedin City Council, decided to publish a full page advertisement in the 31 May 2008 issue of the ODT. The advertisement was headed up “The Facts about the New Stadium”.
In this advertisement it was claimed that “The funding target establishes a debt free stadium. On this basis the business plan for the stadium shows that it makes a profit. Unlike nearly all other Council owned facilities it will not need annual funding support. This assessment has been confirmed by two of New Zealand’s leading accountancy firms”.
This is published and accessible and the wording of the advertisement cannot be interpreted in any other way as the heading refers to all that followed as “facts”.
The advertisement also claimed that the Trustees of the CST were “committed to delivering this stadium, under budget, on time and to achieve its financial, social and economic goals”.
Now of course some advertisements for wrinkle cream use all sorts of phrases like “clinical tests prove etc etc”. Many people are ready to pounce on claims that are unable to be substantiated, or are untruthful, or are misleading, or cannot be proven. In other words, the makers of the wrinkle cream need to be able to show that there were indeed “clinical tests”. The fact that the clinic may have been part of the company making the cream is sometimes understood, and in any case, the makers of the cream hardly ever claim that “totally independent clinical trials using double blind processes found what we are claiming is true”.
But this is not some pot of wrinkle cream.
The CST claimed a number of facts in their advertisement that they said were verified by two of New Zealand’s leading accountancy firms.
So, I submitted a very brief letter to the Editor of the ODT that simply asked this:
In light of the continuing operating losses of the Awatea Street Rugby Stadium, and the on-going debt costs from its construction, it would be interesting to be informed of just who the two leading NZ accountancy firms were that confirmed the Carisbrook Stadium Trust’s claims published in the ODT in 2008 that the stadium would be built debt free and would return an annual operating profit. Maybe these two companies could now tell us how the reality differs so much from the published claims.
The ODT has informed me that my letter was noted but not selected for publication. This is newspaper speak for it’s been binned.
Why should this be?
Should the ODT not be interested in ensuring that an advertisement of a major size on a subject that had divided the City was not at all misleading in the same way that claims were made that may not be able to be substantiated, or could be shown to be unfactual?
Is the ODT particularly sensitive to the views of those that decided to publish this advertisement?
Had the ODT entered into any understanding or arrangement that the paper would support the stadium project which may have led to less than stringent standards of advertising being followed in this case?
But perhaps more telling is that to my knowledge, the ODT has not followed up on the obvious story of just who these two leading NZ accounting firms were that supported the claims of a debt free stadium and an annual operating profit. My point is that time and distance show us that these claims were so at odds with the claims made and published, that serious questions remain unanswered on just how the CST and these two companies got it so wrong.
Maybe another newspaper sees the story that the ODT doesn’t?
█ Legible copy: CST Advertisement, ODT 31 May 2008 (PDF, 200 KB)
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