K BOLTON AGAINST THE DOMINION

The consequences of the reports of a late-night assault on a Maori man in Wellington City in The Dominion on 4 and 5 May 1998 were the basis of complaints to the New Zealand Press Council, which have not been upheld.

In Mr Bolton’s first letter he laid two complaints. The first complaint was narrowly focussed in that The Dominion had incorrectly reported on two separate days that a card found on a member of the Southern Hammer Skinheads bore the postal address of the New Zealand Fascist Union at Paraparaumu. Mr Bolton is an acknowledged member of the New Zealand Fascist Union, and, his and its, Paraparaumu postal box number are the
same. Members of the SHS were involved in the assault on the Maori. Mr Bolton said the newspaper “should be called to account by the Press Council for inept reporting and a cavalier disregard for facts”.

The second complaint was that the reporting of the incident on 4 May was biased against the Skinheads. A third complaint was added by Mr Bolton in the course of the correspondence and it alleged the newspaper had incorrectly portrayed the Fascist Union as a racist group. The second article published on 5 May contained comments from Mr Mike Moore MP critical of the SHS, but also included a denial from Mr Bolton as the
Fascist Union spokesman, that there was any connection between the Union and the Hammer Skinheads and that it was not affiliated with them.

The first complaint. The Dominion had obtained the basic information about the incident from the police, a usually reliable source for these matters. It transpired on further investigation that the police had supplied incorrect information in that the precise card of the SHS had on it only its Christchurch post office box number. However this error had to
be counterbalanced by the fact that another card found on the members arrested was headed New Zealand Fascist Union with a primary Auckland HQ box number, and three other regional postal addresses, one of which was the Christchurch box number of the SHS and another for the Wellington region a box number which was the same as Mr Bolton’s at Paraparaumu. The editor of The Dominion offered to acknowledge in his newspaper the original error, but at the same time setting out fully further facts and sent to Mr Bolton the exact proposed wording. Mr Bolton chose to forgo accepting the version of the correction.

The Council agreed that it is usual to get this type of information from the police, that the information contained a mistake, but the culpability was ameliorated when all the facts were examined together. The Council, however, considered the newspaper could have reacted more quickly to the allegation of error as it had been repeatedly informed of it. For the forgoing reasons the Council did not uphold this complaint.

Neither did the Council uphold the other complaints of Mr Bolton about the biased reporting of the original incident, and the portrayal of the Fascist Union as a racist organisation when Mr Bolton denies that as a fair description. Those are for the newspaper to decide as editorial policy and for Mr Bolton, or any other person who seeks to dispute matters of balance and opinion, to challenge them in a letter to the editor. In the
absence of any ethical breaches, and there are none, it is not for the Council to adjudicate on issues of that kind.

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