HERMAN JANS AGAINST WAIKATO TIMES

Case Number: 966

Council Meeting: MARCH 2004

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Waikato Times

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

On 20 December 2003, the Waikato Times printed an article concerning the trial for war crimes of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, specifically mentioning the murder of 7,000 Moslem men and boys by the Bosnian Serbs. Referring to Srebrenica where the massacre took place, the article said, “it was under the ‘protection’ of 110 lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers, who offered no resistance when the Bosnian Serbs stormed in. Requests for air strikes were somehow lost or delayed by bureaucracy. The failure of the international community to come to the rescue of Srebrenica is one of the darkest stains on the history of late 20th century Europe.” The Times of London provided the article.

The complaint was not upheld.

Mr Jans felt the reputations of the Dutch peacekeepers were unfairly treated by the article. He wrote to the Waikato Times in their defense. His letter was published in abridged form on 8 January 2004. In his published letter he defended the honour of the Dutch soldiers. He explained they faced impossible odds and the bloodlust of the thousands of heavily armed soldiers.

Mr Jans wrote to the New Zealand Press Council on 9 January complaining about the abridgement. He felt his letter should have been published in full.

The editor said Mr Jans’s letter had been considerably longer than that allowed in the paper. He had taken care to ensure the essence of his complaint was encapsulated in the available space.

The Times has an international reputation. Their article put responsibility squarely on to the international community and there was no suggestion that the Dutch peacekeepers, without support, could have done any more than they did. The Waikato Times reprinted a high-quality international news story and they have no complaint to answer in regard to the article.

Editors often need to abridge letters which exceed the allowed space. The alternative to abridgement is omission. Readers are advised of this possibility and of the size restrictions which apply. The Press Council recommends editors identify abridged letters when published. The Waikato Times identified the letter as abridged; their editing was done carefully and professionally. Mr Jans’s energetic defence of Dutch honour was maintained in the published letter. There is no case to answer concerning the abridgement.

The complaint is not upheld.