back

Case Number: 2105 KERRY BOLTON AGAINST THE PRESS

Council Meeting MARCH 2010

 1. Kerry Bolton complains that an article in The Press, on 5 December 2009, entitled A Right muddle was inaccurate and biased.
2. The complaint is upheld.
The Article
3. The thrust of the article is given in the standfirst which states:
New Zealand lacks a tradition of Fascist causes and ethnic tensions, so the public image that guarantees the National Front wide attention guarantees its failure as well.
4. The activities of the Far Right alternative groups in New Zealand are considered, some of their activities and rallies are commented on and quotes are given from three prominent persons, including Dr Bolton. The article poses the question, Can the National Front, or some similar far Right alternative, ever gain ground in New Zealand? The answer given later, after a reference to the several splinter groups which make up the National Front, is:
And there, ironically, is the difficulty, as ‘National Front’ has become shorthand for ‘race-hate, skinhead thugs’. The political ideas are never heard. The party keeps attracting precisely the hotheads that make it unelectable. The image that guarantees the National Front attention guarantees its failure as well.
The Complaint
5. The Press, on receiving Dr Bolton’s complaint, conceded that one and possibly two of the factual allegations were incorrect and offered to print a correction. The proposed correction has not been published because on receipt of The Press’s email advice, Dr Bolton that day complained to this Council.
6. The two matters which the Press offered to correct were a statement that Dr Bolton was at the National Front’s Wellington rally in 2009 and a statement that he founded the New Zealand Right.
7. The alleged factual inaccuracies complained of are extensive and include:
(a) That Dr Bolton had been a member of the Nationalist Alliance.
(b) That Dr Bolton was a “neo-Nazi Satanist”.
(c) The identification of Dr Bolton as an adherent to a nebulous “white power movement”, and the failure to draw a distinction between such a group and the Right, and a loose citing of Dr Bolton when the article states that the white power movement has always been deeply divided; for some it is just about the political theory; for others, it is the ill-focused expression of poor white resentments; and for still others it is an excuse to get into fights.
(d) That Dr Bolton opined that the National Front will not succeed because New Zealand does not have a “fascist tradition” to tap into. He denies he so opined or that he suggested fascism and national socialism are synonymous. Further, Dr Bolton denies he said, as claimed in the article, that he joined the National Front because he believed in its fascist principles.
(e) An inference that Dr Bolton has pseudo-fascist views.
(f) Dr Bolton described himself as “mostly posturing”.
8. Dr Bolton also alleges that there were other inaccuracies in the article which did not relate to him. It is not proposed to consider these allegations as the persons involved have not complained to the Council.
The Response
9. The Press confirmed it would have published a correction on the matters referred to in paragraph 6 if Dr Bolton had not immediately lodged a complaint with this Council. It says that it may have been possible for it to have established that Dr Bolton was the founder of the New Right but would have corrected the matter, nevertheless.
10. Its response to the matters raised in paragraph 7 above are:
(a) The initial source for its statement that Dr Bolton was a member of the Nationalist Alliance was a document from April 2008 The ANZAC Declaration: Australia First Party and New Zealand National Alliance: Declaration of Common Interest and Future Relations, signed by Dr Bolton. In response to Dr Bolton’s claim that he was not a signatory to the declaration, nor did he have any input into it, The Press says that the document when originally sourced on the “slackbastard.anachobase” website showed Dr Bolton as a signatory but a later document on another website does not show him as a signatory. The Press’s position is that the original page from Way Back Internet Archive shows Dr Bolton’s name as an active signatory on July 19, 2008 and it cannot speculate as to why the declaration has subsequently been altered or by whom. It stands by its statement that Dr Bolton was a member of the National Alliance.
(b) The Press did not respond to each of the other individual complaints but says:
“… that in the context of the article – which was an attempt to give a realistic picture to an often emotively treated subject, that being New Zealand’s white power and skinhead politics – the writer managed to present both an accurate portrayal about what was being said and about the far right and its leaders (such as allegations that Dr Bolton was a ‘neo-Nazi Satanist’ with the use of quotation marks being a normal writing technique to paraphrase the claims made against the subject, and never intended to be a statement of fact by this newspaper), and a balanced assessment of what their real feelings and practical ideas might be. …This was sometimes difficult because, as Dr Bolton admitted to the writer, he has at one time or another supported quite a wide variety of belief systems.”
Discussion
11. The failure of The Press to respond specifically to most of the complaints referred to in paragraph 7 is of concern. The article depicts Dr Bolton as having philosophies which he says he does not have and states that he made statements to the reporter which he denies. The Council would have been assisted by receiving a direct response to these claims by Dr Bolton. Consequently, it does not have any evidence to refute Dr Bolton’s specific complaints.
12. If the only material inaccuracies were the two matters which The Press was prepared to correct, then its offer to correct those factual errors would have been an adequate and proper response. Notwithstanding the alacrity of Dr Bolton’s complaint to the Council, The Press would have been wise to publish a correction when it realized its errors.
13. The Press stands by its claim that Dr Bolton has been a member of the National Alliance. The evidence which it has provided is the ANZAC Declaration referred to in paragraph 10. Dr Bolton’s position is that using the “slack bastard.anachobase” website as a reliable source is laughable. On the other hand, he does not offer any explanation as to how he became to be shown as a signatory to the declaration on that website. There is a disputed factual issue at the heart of this issue and as such the Council cannot uphold it. However, the Council observes that The Press may have been unwise to rely on this particular website.
14. The article refers to Dr Bolton as “neo-Nazi Satanist”. Later in the article it is explained how Dr Bolton obtained the Satanist tag. However, the article also states that Dr Bolton stated “he was never an Aryan racist”. Aryan racism is a fundamental plank of Nazism and there is thus an inconsistency in the article. The Press’s position is that the use of quotation marks around the term shows that it was a quotation. The Council considers that many readers would not appreciate that this was a quotation and if such a strong and pejorative term as “neo-Nazi Satanist” is to be used, there should be attribution to the source of the term. This part of the complaint is upheld.
15. There are other statements which reflect on Dr Bolton if they are not correct. Dr Bolton does not deny that he is a member of the Right, but denies that he is a member of the White Power Movement (which infers racism). If he is not a racist, the article is in these respects inaccurate and unfair to him. In view of The Press’s failure to reply to these particular complaints, the Council upholds these aspects of the complaint.
16. The errors referred to in paragraph 6, the statement that Dr Bolton was a “neo-Nazi Satanist” and the matters referred to in paragraphs 14 and 15 are such that the Council upholds the complaint.
Decision
The complaint is upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.