MICHAEL GIBSON AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2159

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2010

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Editorial Discretion
Politicians
Accuracy

Introduction
The Press Council has not upheld a complaint by Michael Gibson against The Dominion Post about the use of lower case letters to identify Mr Gibson’s affiliation as a candidate for the Wellington Regional Council.

The Complaint
Mr Gibson stood as a REFORM candidate for the Wellington Regional Council, Wellington Constituency during the local body elections in October.
Mr Gibson’s candidacy was identified on the ballot paper as REFORM.
The Dominion Post’s pre-election coverage included, on 25 September, a full page article outlining some of the issues involved with the election of members to the Greater Wellington Council including a full list of candidates.
In this list Mr Gibson was referred to as “Michael Gibson – Reform”.
Mr Gibson complained to the newspaper that he had been incorrectly referred to as having “Reform” affiliations and requested the newspaper publish a correction.
Mr Gibson subsequently complained to the Press Council under Principle One (Accuracy) claiming the newspaper had made an error. He sought an urgent adjudication because of it being an election matter. However, due to the lateness of the complaint it was not possible to have it fast-tracked.

Responses
The newspaper replied that it was their style to use lower case for the names of political parties or affiliations and there would be no correction.
The newspaper reserved its right to apply its own style and stated there would be no exception, in this instance, to the use of lower case when referring to affiliation. The newspaper explained the regular exception to this style for the ACT party was required to avoid potential reader confusion between the ACT party and acts of parliament.
Mr Gibson argued that an exception had been made for REFORM by the Returning Officer who accepted that it complied with the two requirements for an exception: namely that it refers to an organisation or affiliation acronym and that such an organisation had supplied suitable credentials to the returning officer regarding this.
Mr Gibson asked the newspaper whether it would be prepared to use capital letters for acronyms where they had been accepted by a returning officer.
The newspaper, in response, reiterated that it reserved the right to apply its own style guidelines. It cited case Number 2102 (W Garry Whincop v New Zealand Herald December 2009) in which the Press Council declined to uphold a complaint regarding the use of an apostrophe in the name of a province of New Zealand.

Decision
The Press Council upholds the right of a newspaper to apply its own style guide notwithstanding the decision of an official such as the returning officer for a local government election.
Accordingly the complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.