I.ANDREWS AGAINST GULF NEWS

Case Number: 652

Council Meeting: MAY 1997

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: NULL

The New Zealand Press Council has declined to uphold a two part complaint from Waiheke Island ratepayer Ian Andrews of Auckland against the Gulf News.

After a letter to the editor penned in January was not published, Mr Andrews wrote another letter, this time not for publication, criticising the newspaper for a report it carried on 16 January that took a different tack from an article on the same subject nine days earlier in the New Zealand Herald. The reports dealt with Waiheke Island water quality and sewerage issues.

Mr Andrews said the reporter had possibly distorted comments from a health official by wrong and improper emphasis, had breached the journalists’ union code of ethics, and did not give readers information they needed to protect their families’ health. He also asked why none of his letters submitted since July 1996 had been published, but others in support of the other side of the sewerage debate had been. Getting no response, he wrote again.

Replying, editor Liz Waters rejected the allegation of bias in reporting Waiheke sewerage issues, explained how the health official quoted believed scientific information needed careful reporting, and said editors had discretion over what letters were published.

Unsatisfied, Mr Andrews wrote to the Press Council. In her response to the Council Ms Waters, she defended the paper. She said claims of unpublished letters were misleading -- there had been no letters from Mr Andrews seeking a right of reply but several markled “not for publication.” She again rejected claims of incorrect and improper emphasis, and set out for the Press Council the sequence of events in the paper’s reporting of expert health opinion on the issue as she saw it.

The Council found that different newspapers were always likely to report the same issue in different ways. A strength of a market in which more than one newspaper flourished was the variety of voices, views and interpretations that that allowed and encouraged. While accuracy of reporting as far as practicable was paramount good journalistic practice did not demand that all newspapers sang from the same song sheet.

On Mr Andrews second point, the Council repeats its long-held view that editors are entitled to decide which letters they publish. Both parts of the complaint are dismissed.