A complaint to the New Zealand Press Council by a Palmerston North detective alleging biased and inaccurate reporting by the Evening Standard has not been upheld.

Mr Dave Sherlock complained to the Council about the reporting of a court case in which he faced assault charges.

The charges were later dismissed, but the Solictor General has since decided the charge should be relaid.

Mr Sherlock's complaint related to two articles published by the Standard in June. The first reported a pre-depositions hearing of evidence by witnesses to an altercation in a public bar in February, and the second reported the dismissal of the assault charge by two JPs.

Mr Sherlock alleged unprofessional reporting by the reporter, was unhappy the newspaper had refused to apologise and wanted the Press Council to require the Standard to publish an apology.

He was unhappy the report said all witnesses to the incident had seen him hit the assailant; unhappy that the second report said the complainant had identified him (Mr Sherlock) as his assailant when he had not; unhappy that the newspaper followed up the case through the office of the Solicitor General; unhappy with the headline on the first article which, he said, implied more than one witness said he had kicked and punched another man: and unhappy with the front-page prominence the case received when another case, involving the same people, received lesser prominence.

In a letter to Mr Sherlock in response to his complaint to the newspaper, the editor Mr John Harvey, stood by the paper's reporting and in support cited the evidence of several witnesses. He acknowledged an error had been made in the second report and offered to correct it. In doing so he pointed out the reporter was not responsible for either the headline or the placement of the stories and that more than one witness had told the court they had seen the off-duty detective assault the complainant in a bar. He went on to say that a correction might draw attention to the earlier case when further legal action was imminent.

Not satisfied with the outcome, Mr Sherlock complained to the Press Council.

The Council finds that, with the single exception of the error already acknowledged by the newspaper and which it offered to correct, the reporting of the case was unexceptionable.

The newspaper's interest in the case was not unexpected, given that an off-duty policeman was charged with assault, whatever the eventual legal outcome. The Council also notes the editor's proposed wording for a correction seems appropriate but it is not for the Council to order its publication. That is a decision for the editor to make.

The complaint is dismissed.


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