K R BOLTON AGAINST SUNDAY STAR-TIMES

Case Number: 985

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2004

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Sunday-Star Times

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Discrimination
Bias
Photographs
Accuracy

The National Secretary of the New Zealand National Front (“NZNF”) Mr K R Bolton complains that in a feature interview piece of an NZNF member, Kyle Chapman, headlined “A picture of white supremacy”, the Sunday Star Times has breached the Statement of Principles in five categories, namely, accuracy, corrections, comment and fact, discrimination and photographs.

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.

The feature interview complained of was published by the newspaper on 9 May 2004. By a letter dated 10 May 2004, Mr Bolton (in his official capacity) wrote to the Editor outlining his organisation’s complaints about the article and seeking to have an opportunity to publish correcting information in a position with the same prominence as the original article. He foreshadowed that if agreement could not be reached, a request for the Press Council to adjudicate would follow.

Rather than respond to this letter of complaint, the Editor published an edited version of Mr Bolton’s letter from the NZNF in the Letters to the Editor section of the following week’s newspaper, despite it being clearly indicated it was the first procedural step in the complaint process.

NZNF proceeded to lodge its complaint and Kyle Chapman, as a third party to part of the complaint, consented to the Press Council adjudicating on the third party issues raised by NZNF in its complaint.

By way of summary, the NZNF contend that the feature was inaccurate in portraying the NZNF as a white supremacist organisation; that it demonstrated bias and animosity towards NZNF; that it incorrectly alluded to a link between NZNF and the British NF; and that the portrayal of Kyle Chapman was effectively an “incitement to violence”.

The Editor of the Sunday Star Times upheld the use by the newspaper of the term “white supremacist” recording that Mr Chapman advocated racial separatism, organised a counter-rally to an anti-racism march in Christchurch and repeatedly criticised other racial groups during the interview while praising the white race. The Editor recorded that the newspaper had been unable in its own research to find proof of several claims Mr Chapman made about NZNF. Additionally, the journalist had spent two hours speaking with, and listening to, Mr Chapman and was entitled, on that basis, to record his own observations arising from this interview. The newspaper concedes it associated the NZNF with National Socialism, and the Editor reported a review of newspaper research going back 20 years supported the view the NZNF was modelled on the British NF.

The Editor noted a side-bar to the article made reference to gangs and that the article referred to some members of the NZNF having been gang members as well as reporting that Mr Chapman acknowledged his own criminal history including a firebombing of a marae and other racially based incidents but mentioned he has reformed. The author of the article made an observation that Mr Chapman cuts an “intimidating figure” and suggested that “[i]f an Asian saw him coming down a Christchurch street, they would probably turn and run.” This observation was based on the reporter’s meeting with Mr Chapman.

The Council is satisfied that the article has not breached the principle of accuracy. The article traverses a number of different perspectives on the NZNF. The Council finds nothing in the complaint to satisfy the threshold that published information was materially inaccurate and, accordingly, the complaint under the second principle also fails. The Council does make the observation, however, that the letter to the Editor from Mr Bolton was identifiably a precursor letter to a Press Council referral. The decision to publish a significantly edited version of the letter, when Mr Bolton’s letter was clearly so marked, was an unfortunate one.

The Council does not find that the article failed to make proper distinctions between comment and fact. The NZNF complaint appears to be premised rathermore on the organisation’s distaste for the comment made.

The Council does not uphold the complaint under the discrimination principle. In light of the activities of the NZNF at the time the article was published (particularly in Christchurch), it was both relevant and proper for the newspaper to report and express opinions on the activities and origins of this minority group.

Finally, the NZNF complaint about the photograph which accompanied the article is found not to offend Principle 11. It is apparent from the text of the article itself, that Mr Chapman was an active participant in determining where he would be photographed. It is also apparent that he consented to this photograph being taken.

The complaint is not upheld.