CRAIG SMITH AGAINST OTAGO DAILY TIMES

Case Number: 2427

Council Meeting: MARCH 2015

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Otago Daily Times

Ruling Categories: Privacy
Balance, Lack Of
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
Photographs
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

The Complaint
Craig Smith has laid a complaint related to an article and photo on page four of the Otago Daily Times dated January 20, 2015. The article was entitled “Nest puts dog owners on notice” and the photo is of Mr Smith walking his dog off the lead on Aramoana Beach in an area where there was now DOC signage for dogs to be on a lead. This restriction was required because of a yellow-eyed penguin nesting site.
Mr Smith argues the article, photo and interaction with the publication is in breach of the Press Council Principles of Accuracy, Fairness, and Balance; Photos and Graphics; Privacy; and Subterfuge.

There were a number of emails from Mr Smith to both the publication and the Council however the complaint can be summed up as:

• The Otago Daily Times should report in a fair and balanced manner. Mr Smith argues that not returning his phone call is a breach of this responsibility.
• The article itself was not fair and balanced which included a lack of understanding by the reporter of the beach and community. Moreover the DOC sign does not cover all ingress points and is small in size.
• Mr Smith was recognisable in the photo and has impacted on his reputation including his profession.
The Otago Daily Times response
The acting editor of the Otago Daily Times, Barry Stewart, responded to Mr Smith a number of times by email however his points can be summed up in his letter of January 29 to the Press Council. Mr Stewart argues:

• Mr Smith did phone the newspaper asking that his photo not be published and to speak with the photographer. The photographer did not wish to discuss the matter as the photo was taken in a public place so no permission was required. Mr Stewart reaffirms this view to Mr Smith on behalf of the newspaper.
• There was no expectation to return Mr Smith’s phone call, rather it was only if the newspaper wished to discuss the matter with the complainant.
• Whilst Mr Smith claims he wasn’t aware of the sign, the article was only seeking to highlight the change of nature of the beach given the DOC decision to require dogs to be on a lead.
• The assertion by Mr Smith that the sign was small was wrong.
• The photograph was not there to embarrass Mr Smith but rather highlight very real concerns of the DOC and the local community.
• Mr Smith was offered an opportunity for a letter to the editor but declined the offer.

Discussion
The Principle of subterfuge (9) is not breached.
In terms of Principle of Privacy (2), the Council does have some sympathy for Mr Smith. Given the small community he is likely to have been recognised by some. We are unable to determine whether this might have been negative publicity and in turn impact on Mr Smith’s profession but we acknowledge his concern.
However, the photo was taken in a public place and the Council agrees with the newspaper’s editor that it was taken to highlight a very real issue for DOC, and to alert the public to the extension to the controlled area. There was certainly public interest in dog owners not abiding by DOC rules related to rare penguins.
Under Principle 1 – accuracy, fair and balance – the majority of the Council is of the view that the article does not breach that principle. The Council acknowledges Mr Smith’s assertion that his published quote might have been given more context given the relationship between Mr Smith and “Bradley” however this does not deflect from the accuracy of the article in its entirety.
However three members of the Council thought there was an element of unfairness to the story as it did not include Mr Smith’s reasonable explanation of his presence on the beach with an unleashed dog – the by-law had only just come into effect, the sign had only just been erected, he was not aware of either and he had come on to the beach at a point where there was no sign.

The Council noted that the editor had provided an opportunity for a right of reply which he was not required to do.

Principle 11 regarding photos is not breached.

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.