PETER WARING AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2348

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2013

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage
Conflict of Interest

1 Peter Waring claims that The Dominion Post breached Principle 1 (Accuracy, fairness and Balance) and Principle 9 (Conflicts of Interest) in an article published on July 18, 2013.

2 This complaint is not upheld.

Background
3 The article, published on the World page, was sourced from Associated Press, acknowledged by AP at the foot of the article, and carried the by-lines of the two contributing journalists.

4 The article covered the “spy network” exposed by Edward Snowden and commented that those who criticize “a US-led intelligence network go quiet when they realise its worth”. The spy network commonly known as Five Eyes, is a group of five English speaking countries that includes New Zealand. The article included quotes from sources in the countries where the Five Eyes system operates.

5 It was one of many published in newspapers throughout New Zealand at that time, presenting views from both sides of the debate, regarding proposed legislation to extend powers given to the GCSB being considered by Parliament,.

Complaint
6 The complainant believed that publishing the article without any indication of the authors’ status, expertise or affiliation and the “bolding” of their names, indicated that “The Dominion Post is satisfied with the validity of their expertise on the topic and believes that their views deserve readers’ attention” and that in publishing the article without the inclusion of the authors’ background and affiliations deprived readers of important information on the background to the article and hence how much notice should be taken of the views expressed.

7 He went on to state that given the fact that The Dominion Post had been supporting a reporter in a recent incident where her information was obtained without her knowledge or permission, the article showed the newspaper as ‘”having an inclination to hunt with the hounds and run with the hares” when it published an article supporting the “spy system”.

8 The complainant believed that it was doubtful that the authors, of their own knowledge, could, or would, write the article without input from an undeclared government agency”.

The Newspaper’s Response
9 The editor responded that the newspaper was happy with the standard of articles published by AP and other overseas outlets to which The Dominion Post had clipping rights. The newspaper had no knowledge of the writers’ political views and did not intend to seek this information.

10 The newspaper believed that “readers are sensible enough to divine for themselves which – if any – viewpoint that the newspaper’s correspondents are coming from and able to accept the arguments they formulate or dismiss them”.
Decision
11 The issue of the spy networks and New Zealand’s involvement in intelligence gathering via the GCSB and its alliance with other intelligence gathering agencies in the Five Eyes network has been the subject of fierce debate within New Zealand with those who support it and those who do not.

12 This debate was bought to a head with a proposed extension of powers given to the GCSB in legislation put forward by the government which occurred alongside an expose from a former employee of an agency of another Five Eyes country, and actions of the GCSB that were outside their legislative powers at that time.

13 There were numerous articles published in newspapers throughout New Zealand and much debate throughout the country with proponents on both sides of the debate.

14 In regards to Principle 1, the article is one of many that covered both sides of the ongoing debate and as such does not constitute a lack of accuracy, fairness and balance as set out in Principle 1 of the Press Council Statement of Principles.

15 In regards to Principle 9 (Conflicts of Interest), this complaint does not meet the requirements of this Principle. The article was by-lined to two regular journalists and no further declaration was required.

16 It is the job of a newspaper to present a fair and balanced coverage of both sides of the debate. This is not “hunting with the hounds and running with the hares” as alleged by the complainant but rather the newspaper doing what it is supposed to do – covering both sides of any debate.

17 The complaint 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.