JOHN MCCORMICK AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2603

Council Meeting: JULY 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought

Overview

[1] John McCormick complains that a newspaper article published by The Dominion Poston June 15, 2017 titled “Israel relations on ‘good footing’ breaches Press Council Principles 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance) and 12 (Corrections).

[2] The article discusses Israel restoring diplomatic relations with New Zealand.

[3] In the article it is stated, “The country [Israel] broke off relations with New Zealand after it co-sponsored a UN Security Council measure condemning continued Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory just before Christmas last year.”

[4] The article refers to the withdrawal of the Israel ambassador from New Zealand, “After the resolution passed [Benjamin Netanyahu] withdrew his ambassador from New Zealand and barred the Kiwi ambassador from Israel.”

The Complaint

[5] The complaint is based on the article that appeared in The Dominion Post dated June 15, 2017 but the complainant has made reference to several other newspaper articles over the past 6 months including theOtago Daily Times, New Zealand Herald as well as other Dominion Post articles. For the purposes of this NZ Press Council complaint, we will focus on the article dated June 15, 2017 as this is the article that has been discussed with Editor in Chief for The Dominion Post, Bernadette Courtney.

[6] Mr McCormick, Chairman of Hawkes Bay Friends of Israel Association, has complained the article contains inaccuracy, “The point being Israel did not break off relations with New Zealand over the incident.” Mr McCormick has requested thatThe Dominion Post run a correction “I would ask that you publish a correction to the June 15th, 2017 item that states that ‘Israel did not break off diplomatic relations with New Zealand as a result of UNSC 2334’ and that you should do that forthwith.” Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Principle 12, Corrections.

[7] Mr McCormick has asked that the correction go beyond The Dominion Post and be applied to all Fairfax newspapers and to the Stuff website. His request is based on the position of Bernadette Courtney as the Editor in Chief Central Region.

[8] In his complaint letter to the editor of the Dominion Post, Mr McCormick has maintained that “Israel did not break off relations with New Zealand,it recalled its Ambassador as a result of our involvement and support of UNSC resolution 2334.

[9] In a further comment to the editor Mr McCormick explains the international diplomatic activity involved with ‘breaking off relations’. “That means to close its Embassy and withdraw all its staff. That did not happen. The Embassy in Wellington continued to function under the leadership of its Deputy Head of Mission.”

The Response

[10] In a response to Mr McCormick, Dominion Post Editor in Chief, Bernadette Courtney describes the use of the wording “broke off relations” as a ‘matter of interpretation.’ She acknowledges that Israel did recall “its ambassador and banned [NZ] diplomats, but agreed with Mr McCormick that Israel “did not fully close relations, keeping its embassy open.”

[11] Ms Courtney agrees with Mr McCormick that the use of the words “broke off diplomatic relations” would have been “more strictly accurate”.

[12] However, Bernadette Courtney does not believe that readers were misled, “It is our belief though that the original wording however did not mislead readers.”

The Decision

[13] Firstly, it is worth acknowledging that Mr McCormick was correct to approachThe Dominion Post to outline his concern about the wording adopted in describing the diplomatic relationship between Israel and New Zealand following the sponsorship of a UN Security Council measure condemning continued Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.

[14] Ms Courtney has accepted that the use of the of the words “broke off diplomatic relations” would have been “more strictly accurate.” This acquiescence is followed by an explanation to Mr McCormick thatThe Dominion Post does not believe that their readers were misled.

[15] The NZ Press Council Principle 1 states that “publications should be bound at all times by accuracy… and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission.” In applying this principle to this complaint, it is our view that whilst the wording surrounding the description of the relationship between Israel and New Zealand could have been more accurate there was no intention to deliberately mislead or misinform readers. This conclusion is arrived at on the basis that the article describes how Israel did recall the Israeli ambassador from New Zealand and barred the New Zealand ambassador from Israel. The other articles provided by Mr McCormick all discuss this action that was taken by Mr Netanyahu. This article was focusing on the restoration of the relationship between Israel and New Zealand following the co-sponsorship of the UN resolution.The complaint of inaccuracy under Principle 1 is not upheld.

[16] Mr McCormick has requested that a correction be printed not only within The Dominion Post but across all Fairfax newspapers as well as the Stuff website. As we have concluded that there is no breach of Principle 1, there is no correction to be made therefore the complaint againstPrinciple 12 is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Mark Stevens, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

Vernon Small took no part in the consideration of this complaint.