Case Number: 841

Council Meeting: September 2001

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication

The New Zealand Press Council did not uphold a complaint laid by Dr F H Sims against the New Zealand Herald.

Dr Sims had laid a complaint with the Press Council about the decision of the editor of the New Zealand Herald to not publish his letters.

In February this year Dr Sims wrote a letter to the editor in response to articles published about the retention of human tissue from deceased individuals by a particular British laboratory. In March he followed up with a further letter in support of preservation of human organs and tissue for scientific study. In May he wrote to the editor as he was unable to understand why neither of his letters had been published.

The editor stated that the letters written by Dr Sims were rejected because they failed to address the subject of the articles, published in February, on which his correspondence was apparently based. The stories related to retention of infant body parts, without parental knowledge or consent, by a pathologist in England. The case had led to widespread public criticism of the pathologist and Dr Sims’s letter did not contribute to that debate.

Dr Sims responded that the Editor was incorrect in his assumption that his letters were based on the British article. He had also been commenting on a more recent account of protests in Australia over the retention of human tissue by pathology departments. However, Dr Sims’s original letter had referred specifically to the British laboratory.

In each publication the New Zealand Herald clearly states as its letters policy that ‘Letters are not normally acknowledged and may be edited, abridged or discarded’. The editor has the final discretion on what is published and the Press Council upholds this right. Accordingly, the New Zealand Press Council does not uphold Dr Sims’s complaint.