TREVOR DYKE AGAINST THE DOMINION

Case Number: 804

Council Meeting: November 2000

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: The Dominion

Ruling Categories: Photographs

A complaint by Trevor Dyke of Taihape against The Dominion over a photograph of a soldier pointing a rifle at the camera, published on 18 September 2000 has been upheld by the Press Council. Mr Dyke, a warranted firearms instructor and inspector complained that the depiction of a soldier pointing a firearm directly at the camera (and presumably the photographer) was a breach of a series of laws and regulations.

Under the Arms Act 1983 and its amendments, Firearm Regulations and the Arms code it is an offence to point a firearm, loaded or unloaded, at a person Mr Dyke said in his complaint. The photograph complained of, depicted soldiers training for duties in East Timor.

Mr Dyke, in his complaint to the Press Council said the taking and use of photographs such as this was harmful in that it depicted an unsafe practice in the handling of firearms.

In his response to the complaint, the editor of the newspaper said The Dominion endorsed the principles of the Firearms Act and the Police Arms Code which were aimed at ensuring the safety of firearms users and the general public. In this case, however, the photographer was dealing with professionals well-trained in the use of firearms, and relied on both their knowledge of the code and their expertise with firearms in assessing what was acceptable practice.

In considering the complaint the Press Council took note of one of its principal objects - the maintenance of the character of the New Zealand Press in accordance with the highest professional standards. It considered the objective could not be maintained if it approved of publications which clearly broke the law.

The evidence that the gun was pointing at the photographer was circumstantial in that no one gave direct evidence of that fact. However it could be deduced from the photograph itself and the concession by the editor in his reply and referred to above.

The second leg of the complaint that the photo conveyed the message that it was acceptable to point a firearm at a person was strong.

It is of no comfort to the Council that the editor has made as assurance that army personnel depicted were professionals and therefore careful, but it is accepted that there was no danger to life in this case.

The editor said the photograph was a graphic illustration of the weapons used by New Zealand troops in East Timor and emphasised what a formidable weapon it is. The picture supports the story, but the Council agrees with Mr Dyke that the same photograph taken from any other angle would have got the same message across.

As the circumstances of the photograph depicted a technical breach of the law, the Council upholds the complaint