THE MONGREL MOB AGAINST OTAGO DAILY TIMES

Case Number: 636

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 1996

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Otago Daily Times

A complaint to the New Zealand Press Council against the Otago Daily Times by the Dunedin Mongrel Mob has not been upheld. The complaint, lodged by the Dunedin Community Law Centre on behalf of the Mongrel Mob was that the organisation felt aggrieved as the result of an article published on 15 October dealing with the purchase of Seacliff Hospital.

The complaint contended the article reported the Mongrel Mob as placing a tender for the building. Since this was stated to be incorrect, the ODT was asked a publish a retraction. On behalf of the Mongrel Mob, it was stated that over the past decade they had entered many business dealings, and they were concerned their business had been damaged by the publication of an article stating that they had tendered unsuccessfully. In a climate where gangs have become “a big issue,” newspapers had a responsibility to ensure those matters related to gangs were factually correct when reported, and the ODT would not have fallen into error had it sought comment directly from the gang. It was suggested that some other organisation, possibly another gang, had manipulated the newspaper by passing itself off as the Mongrel Mob,.

The editor of the Otago Daily Times Mr Geoff Adams in response, said the article was regarded as a fair and accurate report of information given to it, and its informant stood by his statement that the Mongrel Mob had shown interest in the former hospital. One of the tenders was submitted by a person residing at the address of the group. In those circumstances the newspaper saw no need for a retraction. Nevertheless the newspaper offered the use of its columns for a statement or letter of clarification.

The sale of the former Seacliff Hospital was clearly a matter of public interest, and the article quoted an official at the centre of the sale process. He indicated that the Mongrel Mob had shown some interest but “it had not been a successful tenderer.”

The phraseology leaves it open to the reader to deduce whether the Mongrel Mob had actually tendered for the property, but it then takes an heroic assumption to infer the reputation of the Mob had been damaged, in the way the complaint suggested. In that sense it is not reasonable to suggest the report fell short of standard newspaper practice. If there was a genuine concern on the part of the complainant that its position might be misunderstood, the newspaper’s offer of space to clarify the situation should have been accepted.

The complaint was not upheld .