MR J.M.SHIERLAW AGAINST THE DOMINION

Case Number: 561

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 1994

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion

A complaint by a reader of the Dominion newspaper who took exception to some references to the League of Rights by a columnist, has not been upheld by the New Zealand Press Council.

The reader, Mr J.M.Shierlaw complained following publication of the column written by Rebecca Scott, a columnist resident in Australia, on 7 September. The theme of Scott's column focussed on the political difficulty of the Australian Liberal Party leader Alexander Downer after it was widely reported in Australia, that some years previously, he had addressed a meeting of the League of Rights, which Scott described in robust terms, as being both anti-semitic and anti-Asian. It was claimed that Downer "had been effectively smeared by his political opponents who have cast him as a closet League of Rights sympathiser."

According to the writer, "mainstream Australia may still have some way to go in its attitude to aboriginal Australia, but is clearly opposed to racism of the League of Rights variety."

Mr Shierlaw, in his complaint argued that the article purported in part to be a factual account of the League of Rights, but was instead "an unwarranted libellous attack" on the League. He called on the editor of the Dominion to produce evidence to substantiate the allegations, and suggested when the editor did not do so, that he had no such evidence. He sought redress from the Dominion in the form of a retraction and apology.

The Dominion in its defence, said it published a letter from Bill Daly, national director of the League of Rights refuting the claims of the paper's Australian correspondent.

That, however, did not satisfy Mr Shierlaw who felt that the Dominion in deleting the words "untrue and libellous" from Daly's letter, had left the impression it did not consider the article was either untrue or libellous.

The Dominion in correspondence with Mr Shierlaw, reiterated the view that the column did not purport to be a straight news report -- but was a weekly column of views and opinion reflecting a current debate or topic making headlines in Australia. However that did not convince Mr Shierlaw, who disputed that the column was one of opinion.

The Press Council in the past has made it clear that in line with the principle to express opinions freely, a columnist is entitled to the use of robust, even what some readers might regard as extravagant language.

As part of that established freedom of expression, newspapers discharge their obligations by offering space for differing, and often contrary views. In this case the Dominion fulfilled its obligation by the publication of a letter from the League of Rights and the Council does not believe that the principle of freedom of expression was infringed.

The complaint is not upheld.