WILSON PENMAN AGAINST THE PRESS

Case Number: 838

Council Meeting: August 2001

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Headlines and Captions

The Council did not uphold a complaint by Mr Wilson Penman against The Press about the headline over an article on firearms.

Mr Penman believed the headline, ''Military firearms build-up,'' was not supported by the article. The key sentence read: ''Figures obtained from the police, under the Official Information Act, show that 4202 firearm owners hold endorsements to own a total of 6864 military style semi-automatic firearms, an increase of 102 since 1997.'' The article also said the police did not know the precise number of semi-automatic weapons. Numbers were imported during the 1980s, a police officer had said. But not all their owners took the opportunity offered in the early 1990s to get an endorsement for ownership.

Mr Penman in his complaints to the newspaper on June 18 and to the Council said there was nothing to support the claim of a military arms build-up, that it was pure alarmist. ''As a responsible firearms owner I am tired of your paper's constant attacks and slanted journalism on gun ownership.'' Of the more than 4000 people who owned military style firearms, the vast bulk were collectors who preserved valuable heritage items reflecting the proud military history of the country. An increase of 102 firearms represented a 1.5 per cent increase since 1997. He also complained that he had written about six letters to the editor in two years and not one had been published.

The deputy editor, Simon Cunliffe, drew on a dictionary definition to defend use of the said word ''build-up.'' It could be used to describe any increase, he said in reply, and it did not mislead the reader. He rejected Mr Penman's claim that The Press had ''adopted the politically correct position of slamming legitimate gun owners'' and supplied articles and editorials as evidence that the newspaper had been fair. He also made the point that Mr Penman could have written a letter about the matter and that that avenue of redress remained open.

The Council agrees that The Press was within its rights to call an increase a build-up, albeit a small one. Mr Penman made some interesting points about the article, suggesting reasons why a statistical increase might not represent a real increase in military style weapons. The Council believes the matter may have been better dealt with had Mr Penman used his specialised knowledge and a letter to challenge the contents of what was not a crystal clear article.

The complaint is not upheld.