EMMA BREWERTON AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2552

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Columnists
Photographs
Unfair Coverage

Overview

The Press Council does not uphold a complaint from Emma Brewerton against The Dominion Post.


On September 27, 2016 The Dominion Post published an opinion piece headed “Corbyn vote condemns Labour to oblivion” and written by Andrew Roberts. The newspaper had sourced this opinion piece from the Telegraph Group from its news feed service.

The Complaint

Ms Brewerton complains that the article breached the principle requiring accuracy, fairness and balance. She also complains that the photograph accompanying the article depicted Jeremy Corbyn as “shifty and menacing” which, she complains, implicitly gives credence to the views expressed by the author of the opinion piece. A more neutral photograph should have been preferred.

In support of her complaint, Ms Brewerton provided an opinion piece from the Independent newspaper’s website written by Johann Hari and titled “The dark side of Andrew Roberts”. In that article Andrew Roberts is quoted as describing himself as “extremely right wing”. Mr Hari goes some distance further than that and asserts that Andrew Roberts has white supremacist views or sympathies.

Ms Brewerton contends that The Dominion Post should not have published the opinion piece from someone who holds such views and she queries, by way of example, whether the newspaper would have published an article from someone with known ISIS connections.

Finally, Ms Brewerton complains that the newspaper has not been balanced in this publication because it failed to publish any alternative view.

The Response

The editor of the newspaper states that the article was an opinion piece and was positioned on a page which was clearly marked “Opinion”. She explains that the opinion pages reflect a wide range of views which are not necessarily held by the newspaper but may be held by some of its readers and writers. It is important that these pages present diverse views.

The editor also makes it clear that the opinion piece was about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Britain’s Labour Party. She rejects any insinuation that any other views the author may hold have impacted negatively on his writing in this instance.

She also explains that the photograph was a profile [publicity] shot of Jeremy Corbyn. She disagrees with Ms Brewerton’s complaint about the photograph, rejecting deliberate selection and any imputation of the newspaper giving credence to the author’s views by the photograph.

The editor argues that the Daily Telegraph is a reputable media organisation and that the newspaper does take a lot of their content. She indicates that the newspaper was negotiating withThe Guardian to be able to present an alternative view but that this negotiation was not concluded. However, the editor asserts that the opinion piece was only one of a number of articles about Jeremy Corbyn and Britain’s Labour Party which the newspaper had published and that the overall picture was balanced.

The Decision

The Press Council upholds freedom of expression. A newspaper must be free to publish a diversity of opinions. Sometimes the opinions will cause argument or even offence. Sometimes the person or organisation expressing a view may be considered ‘distasteful’ to some, or even most, of a paper’s readers. It is important, even in those situations, that freedom of the press be upheld.

The Council does not agree that the newspaper should not have published this opinion piece. Ms Brewerton had obvious recourse to take the matter up in the Letters to the Editor column. Had she done so, other readers would also have been informed about the genuine concerns she raises. The remedy is not to suppress publication of views which may be perceived to be unpalatable.

The opinion piece was a stand-alone article and the editor accepts that no alternative opinion piece was published. That will sometimes be the position with opinion pieces particularly when they have to be sourced from an international news feed. However, in assessing the question of balance, a wider view needs to be taken. There have been many articles published by the newspaper dealing with Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership of the Labour Party. Those articles represent a range of views which viewed as a whole demonstrate balance. The Council does not uphold the lack of balance aspect of the complaint.

The Council also does not agree that the photograph used by the newspaper depicted Jeremy Corbyn in any particular negative light. How a photograph is viewed is subjective. There is no adequate basis for upholding the aspect of the complaint about the photograph.

The Council notes the editor’s comment that the piece was taken from the Daily Telegraph, “a reputable news organisation.” This, in itself, does not absolve the editor of responsibility for what is published.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens and Vernon Small.