Manners: robust view
The letter criticised the pro-hunting pressure group and said: “Why is it perfectly all right for hunts to train dogs to chase to exhaustion, drag down and maul a pregnant deer to death?”.
The group claimed it breached clause one of the Code of Practice (accuracy).
After the letter appeared in August WDP editor Terry Manners published a response from the Countryside Alliance but with the addition: “The writer of ‘Hooligans on horses’ is entitled to his opinion, the same as you.
“The Daily Press is a forum for all views: no apology is necessary or will be given.”
As well as complaining about the original letter, the Countryside Alliance made a second complaint over a WDP editorial which accused it of “bully-boy tactics” and trying to gag the newspaper with threats.
In its evidence to the PCC, the Bristol-based morning paper said it regarded letters as broadly accurate if, to the best of its knowledge, they had a ring of truth about them.
The PCC said the paper had done the right thing by allowing the Countryside Alliance space to contradict the claims made in the first contentious letter.
It said: “The Commission would not normally expect a newspaper to apologise for an inaccuracy that was contained in a letter submitted by a third party – but to take steps to put the record straight if such a mistake came to light.
“That had happened in this case, and no further action was required on this point.”
Regarding the second complaint, on the WDP editorial, the PCC said it “strongly discourages editors from criticising people who wish to make complaints to the PCC, something that is not within the spirit of the Code”.
It said: “One of the key advantages of the system of self-regulation is that it is deliberately not adversarial.
Complainants must be able to complain to the Commission without fear of being ridiculed for doing so.”
However, the PCC decided not to censure Manners, saying: “while his reaction might have been somewhat disproportionate, there was no particular merit in censuring him for publishing his robust view about the complainant’s motives in complaining”.
The PCC took note of the fact that the Countryside Alliance is an organisation with a view to promote rather than a member of the public.
By Dominic Ponsford