Peter Waring complained to the Press Council about an alteration to a short letter he submitted to The Dominion Post in the week before the recent NZ General Election. The complaint is not upheld.

The Complaint:
On Monday 3 November, The Dominion Post published a front page lead article regarding a relationship between the Vela family and Hon Peter Dunne. Mr Waring has advised the Press Council that he felt so strongly about the inadvisability of John Key associating himself with Mr Dunne (who had apparently been offered a cabinet post after the election) that he wrote a short letter to The Dominion Post.
His letter noted that Mr Key and Mr Dunne were “flocking together” to indicate that he thought their association was unwisely close or that they were inclined to similar behaviour.
When the letter was published on November 5, the words “flocking together” had been replaced by “meeting”.
Mr Waring’s complaint is that this replacement considerably altered the tone of his letter and its meaning.

The Newspaper’s Response:
The newspaper’s initial response was that the term “flocking together” was grammatically inaccurate as only two people were involved.
Mr Waring’s response was that the term “birds of a feather flock together” often referred to only two such creatures.
The editor, in his response to the Press Council, stated that he does not believe that the substitution materially altered the meaning of the letter, and that the editing saved Mr Waring from the embarrassment of having a grammatically incorrect letter published.

Final Comment:
Mr Waring used his right to respond to the editor by continuing to point out that he believed the substitution had substantially altered the meaning of his letter.
It is also clear that the editor believes that the substitution was justified to bring the letter into grammatical correctness.

Discussion and Finding
The newspaper did publish Mr Waring’s letter in a timely fashion, and (as published) it did raise the association between Mr Dunne and the Vela family.
It is the newspaper’s right to change Letters to the Editor to meet their standards, and the Press Council accepts that in this case the substitution was made on grammatical grounds. The Council notes, however, that grammatical inaccuracies can sometimes emphasise the point being made, as the letter writer may have intended here.
The Press Council understands the point that Mr Waring makes that the emphasis in his letter has been changed; however, the meaning has not materially altered.
The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Beck, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, John Gardner, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Denis McLean, Alan Samson and Lynn Scott.


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