JOHN NELSON AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2346

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2013

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Accuracy
Misleading

John Nelson’s complaint followed an incident in Wellington in which a greyhound attacked a small dog which subsequently died. The Wellington City Council, having asked the owner of the dead dog if she wished to make a formal complaint (she did not) then decided not to prosecute the greyhound’s owner. Mr Nelson argues that the Council ‘are not really serious when it comes to considering prosecuting the owners of dogs that kill other animals, and are prepared to resort to manipulation and deceit to avoid such action’. The fact that the Council did not tell the dead dog’s owner that the greyhound had been responsible for the death of a cat seven months earlier was seen by Mr Nelson as evidence of his allegation.

His complaint against The Dominion Post, to distinguish it from his unhappiness with the Council’s ‘policy’, is that in failing to give what he sees as the full background to the story the paper ‘misled’ the public. He further complained that the editor had not published a letter in which he had given some of the facts which he believed were relevant to his argument.

The editor, in responding to the complaint, argued that the paper’s reporting of the incident of the dog attack and of the reporter’s discussion with the City Council spokesperson were both accurate, and she rejected the suggestion that the paper had misled its readers. She enclosed copies of the relevant articles and four letters to the editor which had been printed which expressed a variety of views about greyhounds and dog attacks.

The initial article on the attack included a sidebar headed ‘Dog Control’ in which the first item read ‘Under Wellington City Council’s Dog Policy 2009, the council will consider prosecution if there is serious and sufficient evidence that a dog has caused significant damage or injury to any person or animal.’ While there is no suggestion that the quote is inaccurate, it is clearly open to being interpreted in different ways.

On Mr Nelson’s broader complaint, the Press Council concedes that there may be others who would agree with his feelings about dog attacks and the way the local council implements its dog policy. While we have some sympathy for Mr Nelson’s views it is a matter between him and Wellington City Council and not The Dominion Post. The Press Council is not persuaded by his argument that The Dominion Post has an ‘agenda’ in giving covert support for the way council deals with dog control. It accordingly does not uphold the complaint.

The Press Council has consistently ruled that newspapers have discretion on whether to publish a letter to the editor. Mr Nelson’s complaint in that respect is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.