Case Number: 3376

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2023

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance

Ruling Categories: Police
Right of Reply
Unfair Coverage


  1. Tori Fellows complains about two Stuff articles which detail a year-long dispute between members of her family and the owners of a neighbouring dairy in Wellington’s Upper Hutt. Ms Fellows complains the Stuff stories are inaccurate and as a result her family members felt threatened and unsafe. She asks for the stories to be retracted.

  2.  Ms Fellows did not cite a Media Council principle in her complaint therefore the Media Council determined the complaint should be considered under Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. The complaint is not upheld.

The Article

  1. On October 31 and November 1 2022 the Dominion Post published two articles about the long running spat between the Patel family, owners of the Wallaceville Dairy and Trevor Fellows who lives opposite the business. headlined Claims of racism and cameras in heated suburban spat and Upper Hutt mayor grants special talking permission after alleged public racism spat.

  2. The police have been involved in the dispute since April 2022

  3. The first story on October 31 reported the Patel’s saying Mr Fellows had cameras trained on their home and had left racist messages on vehicles which he parked outside the dairy for extended periods of time.

  4. Vimal Patel said the spat began when he asked Mr Fellows to stop parking “multiple vehicles outside the dairy for extended periods.” Mr Patel said he had tried to offer parking solutions
  5. The family of Trevor Fellows are reported as saying he is the victim. When Trevor Fellows was asked for a response to the allegations he told the reporter to “Go to the police and ask them all f…ing about it.”

  6. The second story, on November 1 2022,  reports the Upper Hutt community as rallying behind the Patel family over the allegations of racism and in a Facebook post urging people to attend a public meeting and calling on the council to advocate against intolerance.

  7. The story reveals Police and court documents that show Mr Fellows was ordered to pay Vimal Patel $500 in reparation over an assault.

  8. The story reports Mr Fellow’s son-in-law Willie Moala made a Facebook post alleging Mr Patel had been caught “vandalising vehicles in the area”. The post was later taken down.

  9.  A retired local lawyer Nigel Wade complained to Mr Moala’s employer about the behaviour which he described as “thuggish”.

  10. The Dominion Post story stated Mr Moala did not respond to calls for comment.

The Complaint

  1. Mr Fellow’s daughter Tori Fellows complains about both of the Dominion Post articles saying  it did not have the facts right and the stories were unfair and untrue.

  2.  She complains the stories left her father feeling stressed and the family unsafe.... She says the stories have empowered the Patel family  which is spreading lies in the small community. Ms Fellows says the police are involved but Stuff did not wish to talk to them. She sought a retraction of the two stories, as soon as possible

The Response

  1. In its response to the complaint, the Dominion Post said it stood by its reporting and its attempts to engage with the Fellows/Moala families prior to the publication of both stories and outlined the steps it took to resolve concerns raised after publication.

  2. The Dominion Post says it received correspondence from multiple members of the Fellows/Moala family from the beginning of the coverage of the neighbourhood dispute. While the paper tried to get the Fellows family’s side of the story the family did not engage and the papers efforts were unsuccessful.

  3. In a text dated 30 October the Dominion Post offered both Tori Fellows and her sister, Amanda Moala the chance to put their side of the story but the offer was not taken up.
  4. The Post was then contacted by a public relations company, Silver Eye, which said it represented Willie Moala. It offered to write an article putting the family’s side of the dispute but the company declined the offer.
  6. When Mr Moala later contacted The Dominion Post, asking for a story to be written from his point of view.  The Post said that in the interests of finality and clarity no further stories would be published about the conflict and the matter was closed.
  8. In its response, the paper noted the Fellows family provided no evidence to contradict Mr Patel’s version of events or support their counterclaims. Mr Fellows had been convicted of assaulting Mr Patel and Mr Moala admitted creating the social media post calling Mr Patel a scumbag and accusing him of vandalising cars.

The Discussion

  1.  The Media Council heard the complaint under Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance which states “Publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance, and 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. Exceptions may apply for long-running issues where every side of an issue or argument cannot reasonably be repeated on every occasion and in reportage of proceedings where balance is to be judged on a number of stories, rather than a single report”.
  3. The Council recognises that ongoing disputes such as this are complicated and emotions can run high. Nevertheless,  when the Dominion Post offered the Fellows family and Mr Moala the opportunity to put their side of the story before the articles were published the Dominion Post’s offers were declined. 
  5.  The Fellows family or Mr Moala did not provide the Dominion Post with examples which supported of their version of events or countered Mr Patel’s statements. There was no evidence provided of stalking or any other general assertion.  Ms Fellows did not deny that racist comments were made by Mr Fellows. The Council finds that no inaccuracies have been shown by Ms Fellows.  
  7. Moreover the articles were not proven to be inaccurate unfair or unbalanced.  Tori Fellows and her sister, Amanda Moala were given the chance to put their side of the story but the offer was not taken up. Requests for comment were referred to the Police. The Dominion Post had sought comment from the police who unsurprisingly declined to do so on privacy grounds.
  9. In conclusion, no breach of Principle (1) has been demonstrated.

Decision: The complaint is not upheld.


Council members considering the complaint were the Hon. Raynor Asher (chair); Rosemary Barraclough; Tim Watkin, Scott Inglis, Hank Schouten, Ben Frances, Jo Cribb, Marie Shroff, Alison Thom and Richard Pamatatau.


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