BARBARA SEDDON AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2840

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2019

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Politicians

Overview

[1] The Dominion Post published an article on Friday August 2, 2019 titledSeymour takes aim at police. This followed the article being published online on Thursday August 1 headlinedPolice Association attacked over gun lobby ‘trolls’ accusations.

[2] The article refers to the cover page of the August 2019 edition of the ‘Police News’ magazine which depicts a plastic troll doll with red, blue and white hair and a plastic gun slung over its shoulder area – the caption shown on the laptop the troll doll is standing on says Gun lobby trolls: How they monster people they don’t like.

[3] In the article, ACT leader David Seymour shares his view of the magazine cover which includes commentary on the present Government “setting the tone” of the magazine cover.However, clarification about the content of the article was offered by the Police Association President, Chris Cahill, “…the cover story referred to a barrage of inflammatory comments, almost all of them from overseas gun lobbyists who oppose the idea of governments taking firearms off people”.

[4] The complaint to the NZ Media Council was lodged by Barbara Seddon in relation to Principle one: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance.

[5] Ms Seddon expressed a frustration at what she perceives to be “unbalanced reporting”, describing the article as reading like a “David Seymour press release.”

The Complaint

[6] In the original complaint sent to The Dominion Post onAugust 4, Ms Seddon had queried why the Police Association President (Mr Cahill) had not been contacted, “…no doubt you would have been told what the TV1 and TV3 Friday news viewers heard: that the cover MP Seymour represented as a shot at the NZ gun lobby was in fact referencing the American gun lobby that was internet trolling NZ police over the new gun law.Yet your article didn’t mention this.”

[7] In relation to NZ Media Council principle one, Ms Seddon says: “The reason I’m angry is because I always put more trust in printed journalism – presuming more care is taken to ensure accuracy – but if I hadn’t seen the TV news I would have had completely the wrong story thanks to the Dompost.”

[8] In Ms Seddon’s complaint to the Council she says: “…DomPost printed an article that was inaccurate, unfair and lacked balance.Inaccurate in that it gave the impression that a complaint by MP David Seymour was based on fact whereas it was based on his misunderstanding of the issue.”

[9] Ms Seddon has referred to Mr Seymour’s misunderstanding of the Police Association magazine cover showing a “Rambo-like troll toting a gun” as having a “crack about the NZ gun lobby, depicting them as trolls.”Referring to the story that ran on television, Ms Seddon says the Police Association President discussing the illustration on the magazine cover provided an explanation of how the “Association was being internet trolled by the American gun lobby and the troll’s red, white and blue hair represented the colours of the American flag.”Ms Seddon’s view is that “Mr Seymour had either leapt to the wrong conclusion or was attacking a straw man.”

[10] In relation to the provisions of principle one (balance and fairness) Ms Seddon highlighted the quote by Mr Cahill inThe Dominion Post “the politician had not even read the story about largely overseas gun lobbyists the cover referred to”, Ms Seddon questions the validity of this statement, “…this is the only mention of overseas gun lobbyists and was buried by further comments by Mr Seymour, railing under his assumption it was aimed at New Zealand gun owners.There was a lack of balance in giving the two views – eight quotes from Mr Seymour, three from Kiwi Gun Blog echoing Mr Seymour’s view, and three quotes from Mr Cahill.”

[11] Ms Seddon has expressed the view that she doesn’t think “the DomPost should have printed an article that was based on a false premise – that the cover was aimed at the NZ gun lobby.” Referring to inaccuracy, Ms Seddon says, “The inaccuracy could have been prevented if the reporter had followed-up on the Police Association rebuttal buried mid-article.”

[12] In a final response Ms Seddon denies being motivated by being “pro-gun or anti-gun”.Instead her complaint was based on her impression on reading the article that the “Police Association was having a go at firearm owners. The first two paragraphs – normally all that readers look at, the headline and the photo caption all gave this impression.”Ms Seddon says that the TV news item “…explained the reason given for using the troll on the magazine cover however the article seemed to contradict that and I had to reread it. How many readers would take the time to reread an article?”

[13] Ms Seddon provided a further comment on the lack of balance within the article, “The article may not have been completely one-sided, but it was unbalanced.It read like a press release with a couple of other comments popped in.”

[14] As a final comment, Ms Seddon has summed up the basis for her complaint, “I rely on theDomPost for information, but this article was more about misinformation – Mr Seymour has a right to vent in ignorance as Mr Janssen says, but why print misinformation?

The Response

[15] The editor for The Dominion Post, Eric Janssen has provided a response to Ms Seddon’s complaint.

[16] The Dominion Post do not agree with Ms Seddon that principle one was breached.

[17] Mr Janssen says firearms are a “divisive topic”. “Just about every article we carry on firearms leads to some complaints, whether from anti-gun or pro-gun individuals.” He goes on to address how this relates to ‘balance’ as set out in principle one, “With due respect, I have to say that perceived balance in these articles is very often in the eye of the beholder, and extremely subjective.”

[18] Referring to the original complaint by Ms Seddon, Mr Janssen highlights assertions made about the article:

  • The article was “completely one-sided”.
  • The Police Association had not been contacted.
  • The article “didn’t mention the fact” that the cover referred to the overseas gun lobby rather than the NZ lobby.

[19] Refuting the points above, Mr Janssen says the facts are:

  • It was not completely one-sided in that other voices were recorded in the article.
  • We did contact the Police Association, and its president Chris Cahill, is quoted in the article (This was subsequently acknowledged by Ms Seddon).
  • The article does mention – in the third paragraph, in fact – that the cover referred to the overseas gun lobby.

[20] In addressing the suggestion by Ms Seddon that “the article portrayed David Seymour’s complaint to be based on fact rather than a misunderstanding”, The Dominion Post rejects this claim. In response, Mr Janssen said, “If Mr Seymour chooses to vent – ignorantly or otherwise – that is his right.We have quoted him accurately, in good faith, but, crucially, have also shown clearly that his comments were ignorant.”

[21] Mr Janssen has posited that Police Association president Chris Cahill is quoted accurately and fairly. There is an acknowledgement by Mr Janssen that Mr Cahill “gets fewer photographs than Mr Seymour but his view is there in full.”

[22] Referring to the comment about the number of paragraphs in an article, Mr Janssen says “If equity of paragraphs becomes the yardstick for balance in articles, just about no article anywhere would pass the test.”

The Decision

[23] NZ Media Council principle one states that ‘publications should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission’.In articles of controversy or disagreement, a fair voice must be given to the opposition view.In light of the recent shooting event in Christchurch in March this year, and the subsequent legislation, the topic of firearms could be deemed to be controversial or creating disagreement.

[24] The article which is the basis for this complaint does not deliberately mislead or misinform readers.The article reflects the views held by an MP and, the article also includes the views of the Police Association president which provides a voice to the opposition view as set out in principle one.

Principle 1 – Accuracy, Fairness and Balance: Not upheld

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.