MICHAEL GIBSON AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2005

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2007

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Discrimination
Headlines and Captions
Accuracy

Michael Gibson, of Wellington, complained about a front-page article published in The Dominion Post on May 2, 2007. The grounds for complaint were that the article breached Press Council Principles 1,2 8 and 10 [on behalf of the Catholic Church and its leaders].
The complaint is not upheld on principles 1, 2, 8 nor 10.


Background
On May 2, 2007, The Dominion Post carried a front page story (tag line SMACKING BILL headline Church against Church) outlining the positions of the major Christian denominations and Destiny Church on proposed legislation known as the anti-smacking bill and predicting that, following an ecumenical service at Wellington’s Anglican Cathedral, mainstream churches would rally that day at Parliament at the same time as a Destiny Church-led anti-bill protest to Parliament.
The story stated “Leaders of the Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic churches have thrown their weight behind the bill – and have accused Christian opponents of selectively misquoting the Bible.
“They will rally at Parliament at the same time as a Destiny Church-led protest against Green MP Sue Bradford’s bill…”

Complaint
Michael Gibson complained to The Dominion Post by fax on May 2 that there was no justification for the claim that leaders of the Catholic Church had thrown their weight behind the bill.
In his reply Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst directed Mr Gibson to an earlier report [April 27] regarding the Catholic bishops offering “qualified” support for the anti-smacking bill and quoting church spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer.
Mr Gibson’s faxed response stated he was unable to locate the statement attributed to Lyndsay Freer.
Mr Pankhurst provided the Catholic Church press release and elaborated that the reporter had spoken to Ms Freer about the release and was told the bishops were offering their “qualified support.’
In his response Mr Gibson then argued there was no justification for the May 2 claim that Catholic Church (with its leaders) was pitted against other churches.
On July 10 Mr Gibson made a formal complaint to the Press Council claiming the May 2 front-page story to be false and offensive and breaching principles 1, 2, 8 and, on behalf of the Catholic Church and its leaders, a breach of principle 10.
Mr Pankhurst’s response included a transcript of the April 27 story covering the Catholic bishops “qualified support” for the bill and rebutted each of the four breaches of principle claimed by Mr Gibson.
On August 14 Mr Gibson filed a final comment and included, for the first time, a copy of a press release from the Catholic bishops dated May 1 that Mr Gibson asserted the Dominion Post had received. The release advised the Catholic bishops would not be attending the ecumenical service. This was furnished as proof that the article was inaccurate, unfair and unbalanced.
Mr Pankhurst’s reply claimed Mr Gibson was shifting the goalpost with his complaints, stated that “a series of reverends, pastors and other church hierarchy from each denomination’ had attended and addressed the ecumenical service and given Sue Bradford a letter of support. There was no suggestion in the article that Catholic bishops would be attending.

Discussion
The complaint under Principle 1 Accuracy is not upheld. The article is accurate. It was predicted that an ecumenical service at 1pm at the Wellington Anglican Cathedral and a Destiny Church rally would result in two religious groups with opposing views on proposed anti-smacking legislation meeting in the grounds of Parliament. This occurred.
It was correct that leaders of the Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic churches had thrown their weight behind the bill. Even if the position of the Catholic bishops was “qualified” support, it was still support.
The prediction “They will rally at Parliament…” came true.

As there were no inaccuracies, no correction was required. The complaint under Principle 2 is therefore not upheld.

The Council did not consider there to have been any gratuitous emphasis placed on religion. The complaint under Principle 8, Discrimination is not upheld.

The complaint under Principle 10, Headings and Captions is a third-party complaint on behalf of the Catholic Church and its leaders.
The tagline and headline were accurate and the complaint is not upheld.

Conclusion
This bill resulted in strongly held opinions on both sides. The debate was heated and received significant media coverage on an almost daily basis. The Dominion Post coverage was extensive with reporters going beyond the press releases and hand-outs to expand on the position of various parties. This article was but part of the coverage and the Council finds no grounds for upholding any of Mr Gibson’s complaints against it.

Council members considering the complaint were Barry Paterson, Aroha Beck, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, John Gardner, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Denis McLean, Alan Samson and Lynn Scott.