Dawson Bliss complains about an article that appeared in NZ Farmer on September 16, 2014. He alleges breaches of the principles of Accuracy, fairness and balance; Comment and fact; Headlines and captions; and Subterfuge.

The Article
The article deals with illegal poaching in forestry blocks. It features an interview with Phil De La Mare, the Otago Regional Manager for forestry plantation owner, Ernslaw One. It raises concerns about unpermitted hunters targeting wild pigs illegally released in private forests. It quotes Mr De La Mare that illegal hunters go shooting even when people are working, and their actions are putting staff and contractors in a risky situation. Staff had come face-to-face with poachers, but are instructed not to confront them. It reports that security cameras had provided images of poachers, which resulted in an arrest and one person being convicted and having his vehicle confiscated. Mr De La Mare also said the releasing of wild pigs from unknown sources was undermining efforts to eradicate TB in Otago, which could have major consequence for farmers.

The Complaint
Mr Bliss complains that to claim people have been shot, and offer no facts to that statement, is admitting the article cannot back up such serious actions. He said reporting hearsay news and not being able to back up the facts should not be allowed in the New Zealand press. He goes further in saying that the reporting of people being shot at is a serious matter, one in which the New Zealand Police would consider laying attempted murder charges if the facts alluded to were true. He says the article is a lie, and the matters reported never happened.

NZ Farmer response
Fairfax Head of Rural Content, Tim Cronshaw, referred to the fact that Mr De La Mare is the manager of a forestry owner and in a position to know when his staff have been placed in danger. The illegal hunters referred to had no permission to be on company land, and as the article states, the police have been involved with some incidents and charges have been laid.
He went on to say that poaching had been the subject of other articles in NZ Farmer, and with such a reputable source as in this case, he had no doubt the incidents had occurred and the article was justified. The issue was that Mr De La Mare feared for the safety of his staff because of indiscriminate and highly dangerous shooting by people who have no legal right to be hunting on the property. He points out that Mr Bliss seems to be alleging that unless there was evidence of actual injury, or worse, the incidents could not have taken place. He said the fact that unauthorised hunters were shooting near people going about their work was a cause for serious concern.

The article addresses a matter that is clearly of concern to the rural community. The dangers of unpermitted and illegal hunting on forestry blocks are obvious, particularly when workers and contractors are working within the blocks, not knowing where the hunters are. The reverse could often apply with illegal hunters being unaware where workers and contractors were carrying out their lawful business. The publication has approached the person who is the regional manager of a forestry owner with a number of forestry blocks. It is a company that has allocated a number of blocks for legal weekend hunting, but noted that demand outstripped supply. The manager is directly quoted, and it is clear they are matters he would have personal knowledge of. The dangers and concerns he raises are well-founded.
However the Council recognised that the opening of the article could be taken to suggest that illegal hunters were deliberately targeting forestry workers. That is not the case as is made abundantly clear by reading the whole article in context. The subject is clearly the dangers created by illegal hunters being unaware of the whereabouts of forestry workers and vice versa.
Mr Bliss, while complaining that four principles of the Press Council had been breached, made little effort to relate his complaints above to specific principles. In our view the article is accurate, fair and balanced. It does not mix comment and fact, and there is no subterfuge. The headline in the NZ Farmer accurately and fairly conveys the key elements of the story. We do not consider there are any breaches of those principles.
Indeed, we consider this to be a complaint without merit, and it is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.


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