PETER DAY AGAINST WAIKATO TIMES

Case Number: 2532

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Waikato Times

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Comment and Fact
Discrimination
Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication

Overview

Peter Day complains that an opinion piece by Chris Trotter published in Waikato Times on June 17, 2016 and titled “One can’t deny religion as a motive” breaches principles one (accuracy, fairness and balance), four (comment and fact), six (headlines and captions) and seven (discrimination and diversity).

Background

Paraphrasing, Mr Trotter’s piece opened with reference to those sections from the Bible’s Old Testament (Leviticus) as condemn homosexuality. The piece emphasised the conflict between “those who draw their inspiration from the vengeful God of Leviticus [and] those who worship the Loving God embodied by Jesus of Nazareth.”

Mr Trotter proceeded to connect the rigid doctrines espoused by Leviticus and by radical Islam with recent terror events (notably the Orlando Florida massacre).

Essentially Mr Trotter sees a direct link between extreme religious views and terror. To down play the link would “be both unhelpful and unrealistic.”

The Complaint

Mr Day maintains the Trotter article breaches the Council’s principles because “it is clearly based on a very selective and very antagonistic view of the Bible.” Mr Trotter’s views that “God is vengeful and angry is … untrue and bigoted and unbalanced.” To the contrary “God is loving and forgives sinners.” Mr Day argues that the sections from the Bible Mr Trotter mentions are “obscure.” There are many other passages in the Bible which contradict Mr Trotter’s argument. To link religion (especially the Christian religion) with terrorist attacks is wrong. Mr Day claims that Mr Trotter’s arguments are “fallacious, unbalanced and very offensive”. Mr Day refers to the great good Christians due in the world, good Mr Trotter refuses to acknowledge.

Mr Day takes particular issue with Mr Trotter’s linking of the Orlando massacre with the passage from Leviticus. Mr Day refers to an article published in the UKDaily Telegraph after the Trotter piece appeared casting doubts on the early claim that the Orlando gunman was an Islamist terrorist. TheTelegraph story referred to a Spanish media report suggesting the gunman was in fact motivated by jealousy rather than by his religious beliefs.

Mr Day also complains that Waikato Times refused to publish a letter from him responding to Mr Trotter’s views.

The Response

Waikato Times disagrees with Mr Day. Its editor refers principally to Mr Trotter’s right to express his opinion this being an “honestly [held view] based on what he knew at the time. It was not a news story.”

While Waikato Times acknowledges the line developed by the later Telegraph story it says the Trotter piece was written in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. At this point it was generally thought the perpetrator was somehow linked to radical Islam. In due course Waikato Times had published the substance of the Telegraph article. Waikato Times said it is not required to apologise (as Mr Day requires) for putting the views of a commentator based on the “summary of events… as known at the time of writing.”

Waikato Times says, further, that the headline to the piece was accurate in that it summarised the author’s argument. Likewise the newspaper did not discriminate. The paper says that religion is a legitimate subject for discussion as principle seven allows. There was no gratuitous emphasis. As to Mr Day’s reference to the non-publication of his letter, the newspaper points to a letter from Mr Day’s on a similar theme it published a few days before the Trotter piece appeared.

The Decision

The Council does not agree with Mr Day. As it has said many times and as principle four provides, newspapers are free to publish opinions provided they are clearly marked as such. Opinion pieces may be one sided. They need not refer to opposing views. It is only in rare instances where the opinion will clearly cause actual harm that the Council’s principles will be breached. This is not one of those cases.

The Council agrees that the headline to the article was not misleading. It also finds this piece did not involve any inappropriate discrimination

The Council also agrees with the newspaper when it says it is not required to apologise for publishing Mr Trotter’s views in the light of theTelegraph article. The Council does not agree with Mr Day when he claims the gunman’s true motivation was as described in theTelegraph story. The Telegraph report, in the Council’s view, simply advances another theory behind the tragic Orlando massacre.

Finally the Council accepts Waikato Times was not required to print Mr Day’s letter written in response to the Trotter opinion. Newspapers are not obliged to publish correspondence received from readers. In any event the Council accepts that Mr Day’s wider views were given fair hearing in his earlier letter.

The complaints are not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens, and Tim Watkin.