DARRYL DAWSON AGAINST WHAKATANE BEACON

Case Number: 2299

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2012

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Whakatane Beacon

Ruling Categories: Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Balance, Lack Of
Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

The Press Council has not upheld two complaints from Darryl Dawson against the Whakatane Beacon.

The first relates to an August 21, 2012 report in the newspaper, after Mr Dawson had filed a Notice of Claim in Whakatane District Court against Whakatane District Council and the business that ran the council's 2010 local body election. The report said Mr Dawson was seeking damages. Mr Dawson said the damages claim was incorrect.

The second complaint concerned a Beacon report on September 18 2012, on court proceedings arising from his action. Mr Dawson alleged the story showed a lack of balance.

First Complaint
On August 21 2012 the Beacon reported, under a headline “Overspend claim lodged with court”, that Mr Dawson had filed a statement of claim in Whakatane District Court. According to a Whakatane District Council spokesman the claim seemed to allege some form of breach of contract in relation to the Local Electoral Act. The newspaper reported that Mr Dawson was "seeking damages" from the District Council and the business that ran the council's 2010 local body election.

Three days later Mr Dawson wrote to the Press Council complaining that he had not sought damages, only the costs of his filing fee and serving fee. He had written to the Beacon to correct the story, and enclosed a copy of that letter. He sought the Press Council’s help in getting the letter published, saying he had been "banned" from writing letters to the Beacon.

On August 27 the Press Council wrote to the newspaper, enclosing Mr Dawson's letters. In later correspondence with the Council, Mr Dawson said he had met the editor on August 28.

The editor, Mark Longley, had offered to print Mr Dawson’s letter if he could show details of his Statement of Claim proving he was not seeking damages.

The Beacon published Mr Dawson's correcting letter on September 4. In correspondence with the Press Council, it acknowledged that the "damages" claim was incorrect and an error by the Beacon. The newspaper said its report was based on information given by the council.

However, Mr Dawson then wrote to the Press Council again, making allegations about the Beacon's motivations and the source of its incorrect information, and the District Council’s involvement. He supplied a District Council press statement relating to the Notice of Claim dated August 27; it made no reference to damages. The council denied making any statement in relation to damages being sought.

He wanted a full retraction in the newspaper for "defaming" him, and said the newspaper seemed to have a "vendetta" against him.

In an exchange of correspondence, the editor acknowledged the Beacon's error about the "damages", denied a vendetta against Mr Dawson, and said it believed publication of Mr Dawson's letter on September 4 had corrected and closed the matter.

On October 9 Mr Dawson again wrote to the Press Council saying the letter the Beacon published was not the full retraction and apology he sought.

On October 11 the Beacon editor told the Press Council it had published Mr Dawson's letter and that Mr Dawson had not previously asked the Beacon to retract the statement or apologise. "He simply wrote the letter and we published it. I feel that we have done what was asked of us and enough to correct the error."

The Second Complaint
This concerned a story which appeared in the Beacon on September 18 titled “Democracy quest 'a misuse of process'.” It reported on the court case that arose from Mr Dawson's Notice of Claim, and the attempt to have it struck it out by Independent Electoral Services and the Whakatane District Council.

Mr Dawson alleged the report showed a lack of balance and submitted a letter to the editor about its content. The Beacon did not publish his letter. The letter alleged the story failed to give balance by not presenting his side of the story. Some of the reported statements were "wrong and false". He complained about comments by counsel for the district council and the IES which had criticised his actions. He believed the newspaper's readers had a right to hear his side to the Beacon's story.

Mr Longley said he was not sure that Mr Dawson understood the reporting of court procedure.
"This was a report on what happened in court, the quotes Mr Dawson objects to were printed as attributed quotes. He is suggesting we should have looked into the validity of the statements made against him and asked if they were true. That is the job of the judge and what the court process is for. We simply reported it and Mr Dawson clearly does not like that." The re-litigation reference, a concern of Mr Dawson's, was a quote from the council's lawyer.
Mr Dawson's point of view was given coverage in the report, as was the other party's.

The Decision
The Press Council carefully considered both complaints. In terms of the first complaint, where the Beacon report said Mr Dawson was seeking damages, the Press Council is not able to determine the source of the incorrect statement. The Council notes that having been advised of the error the newspaper could have checked the Court records, rather than requiring Mr Dawson to provide the proof. But the newspaper admitted its error, and corrected it by publishing Mr Dawson's letter on September 4. Although it would have been appropriate for the Beacon to have added a footnote acknowledging the error, the Council notes publication of his letter was the remedy Mr Dawson initially requested by way of correction, and considers this sufficient action by the newspaper.

In terms of his second complaint, the Beacon's story of September 18 was a straightforward account of the court proceedings. Mr Dawson does not appear to understand the nature of court reporting. The report quoted Mr Dawson's evidence as well as evidence presented by Independent Electoral Services and Whakatane District Council, plus comments by the judge. This is standard practice. The Whakatane Beacon later reported the court's judgment, which went against Mr Dawson.

Mr Dawson's complaint about lack of balance is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.