K R BOLTON AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 1093

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2007

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Introduction
Dr K R Bolton complains about an article “Google accused of harbouring NZ racists” published on 26 October 2006 on the website stuff.co.nz which is a subsidiary news source owned and operated by Fairfax New Zealand Limited.

Dr Bolton’s complaint is a wide ranging one and much of it is beyond the ambit of the adjudication process of the Press Council. On the parts that are relevant to our adjudication process, Dr Bolton claims that the article breaches the principle requiring accuracy, that there has been insufficient distinction between the reporting of comment and fact and that the editor has failed to make corrections to information which Dr Bolton asserts was materially incorrect.

The complaint is not upheld.

The Article
The article, first published in the Sydney Morning Herald, reports on claims made by an anti-racism group that Google is hosting sites with racist, fascist or Neo-Nazi content, but that Google is impervious to complaints which have been made about those sites. The group claims that it had reported a number of discriminatory Blogger journals to Google but that Google, unlike some of its competitors, has failed to respond by removing two of the offending Blogger journals from the web.

The article goes on to report on these two particular Blogger journals including some of their content as well as reporting comment on that content from a representative of the anti-racism group. A significant portion of the article then explores whether the two named blogs might violate either Google’s Blogger user agreement or Australian law. The article reports legal opinion from the President of the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights organisation on those aspects.

The Basis of the Complaint
Dr Bolton complains that because no information about the anti-racism group whose complaint was being reported was included in the article, the article offended the principle requiring accuracy, fairness and balance. Additionally, by having the sole link associated with the report to the website of the anti-racism group, the article lacked balance.

He complains when he sent “correcting information” to the news editor that the news editor failed to make “corrections”. This information was largely about the anti-racism group. Lastly he complains that there was insufficient distinction in the reporting between comment and fact.

Dr Bolton referred his complaints to the editor by a series of emails and phone calls.

The Website’s Response
The news editor asserted that the article was an accurate and fair summary of the views of the anti-racism lobby group. Having viewed the websites which the group complained of, he was satisfied that the reportage of those was also accurate and fair. The report was about racist blogs relating to New Zealand and Australia which were being hosted on Google’s blogger.com. The source of that information was not the particular focus of the report.

He stated that the website is not a stand-alone news organisation but is rather an aggregator of news taken from Fairfax NZ and Australian publications and news wires. The article about which Dr Bolton complains was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Following discussion with Dr Bolton, the news editor of the website referred Dr Bolton’s comments about the particular anti-racism group to a Fairfax NZ newspaper for it to investigate if it wished. The website does not have its own resources to be able to investigate any follow up story.

The news editor regretted that he did not appear to have seen all of the emails which Dr Bolton had forwarded. He observes that it is possible, given the “rather intemperate comments” within them, that they may have been deleted without being referred to him. He has, however, now taken steps to ensure that this can not happen in the future. Despite this ‘glitch’, the news editor maintained that had he read all of the emails, he would have simply responded to Dr Bolton that he had passed the concerns on to a Fairfax newspaper.

The news editor acknowledged that having a link solely to the website of the anti-racism group may have contributed to the suggestion of a lack of balance. This was rectified and the story posted on the Stuff website now also links to one of the websites complained about. The second website complained about has since been removed from the web so no link to that website can be included.

Finding
The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.

The article was intended to be a reflection of the views of the anti-racism group. It reported on the content of the websites the group complained about and reported legal opinion about the content of the two sites. The intent of the article is clear and the story is an accurate one within that intent. Further, the Council is satisfied that comment and fact are clearly distinguishable.

The news editor acknowledged a lack of response to some of the complainant’s emails which were not seen by him but has put in place complaint processes to ensure this does not recur. The Council is satisfied, however, that the news editor’s position would not have materially changed, had he seen and responded to those emails, from the view which he had already communicated and discussed with Dr Bolton.

The Council agrees with Dr Bolton and the news editor’s view that the placement of only a sole link with the story could contribute to a perception of a lack of balance. However, given that this has already been rectified, the Council does not find it necessary to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Beck, John Gardner, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Denis McLean, Alan Samson, Lynn Scott and John McClintock.