J.J.HARRISON AGAINST THE NAPIER DAILY TELEGRAPH

Case Number: 589

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 1995

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: NULL

The New Zealand Press Council has rejected a complaint that the Napier Daily Telegraph had deliberately subjected correspondence to undue delay. The Council saw no fault on the newspaper's part.

The complaint arose from the election campaign for the Napier City Council during which Mr John J.Harrison contended that City Councillors should serve without payment as a community service.

On 31 August, the Daily Telegraph printed an abridged letter by Mr James White in which he criticised Mr Harrison, saying that his proposal about fees was designed to make him a self-believing hero.

On Friday 1 September, Mr Harrison wrote to the newspaper replying to Mr White and his letter, elaborating on his proposal over fees, was published on Monday 4 September. On 11 September he wrote to the newspaper again, contending that it had shown bias amounting to censorship by not publishing another letter by a Mr Tony Jeffrey which he knew had, like his, been sent on 1 September and which explained and supported his position over Council fees.

He said that earlier that day he had telephoned the editor complaining about the non-appearance of Mr Jeffrey's letter and claimed that, by coincidence, or as the result of his complaint, the letter had appeared on the same evening. He said that the delay could not be excused for lack of topicality or space. Dissatisfied with the reply that all contributions to the letters column were treated fairly, Mr Harrison complained to the Press Council on 14 September repeating his allegation of undue delay on the part of the editor and suggesting that this reflected a deliberate attempt to have the tenor of letters lost on readers.

On 19 September, the editor of the Daily Telegraph responded to the complaint. He expressed surprise that someone whose letter had been published should complain about delay in publication of a letter by someone else. He denied that Mr Jeffrey's letter had been subject to any deliberate delay and said that while some letters were published within 24 hours, most, at a busy time, would have to wait upon setting capacity and availability of space. He supplied statistics showing that in 18 publishing days, 163 letters had been published either in the regular letters column or in back-page space. Publication of Mr Jeffrey's letter had been governed solely by the availability of space and had been planned well in advance of Mr Harrison's telephone call about it.

On 17 October Mr Harrison rejected these arguments accusing the editor of a deliberate attempt to delay publication of Mr Jeffrey's letter so as to cause maximum damage to his own electoral campaign.

The Press Council had no hesitation in rejecting the complaint. The Council has always upheld the general principle that it is for an editor to decide the content of his letters page in the light of his own judgment of appropriate timing and availability of space and of such other matters as topicality, public interest, and the weight of other correspondence on a particular subject. It is only special features of a complaint that would intrude on and over-ride this principle. There was no such factor in Mr Harrison's complaint. In the Press Council's view, the editor's actions were without fault.