JOHN BENT AGAINST MANAWATU STANDARD

Case Number: 980

Council Meeting: JUNE 2004

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Manawatu Evening Standard

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

The Press Council has not upheld a complaint from Mr John Bent of Palmerston North that the Manawatu Standard altered two of his letters to the editor in a way that changed their meaning and substance.

Mr Bent said one had been altered with no acknowledgment, it had been abridged and he said the Evening Standard had an inconsistent approach to what it considered was derogatory or “name calling”.

The letters were written and published in August last year and February this year. Both Mr Bent and the editor had been advised that the August letter was outside the time limit for lodging complaints and therefore could not be considered a valid complaint.

Mr Bent’s February letter concerned a difference between the Palmerston North City Council and the Railway Land Action Group.

Mr Bent used a derogatory nickname for the Mayor and said it and other descriptions were an acceptable literary device to draw attention to the points he was making.

The editor Clive Lind said they were derogatory and had been deleted because they amounted “to little more than name-calling”.

Otherwise, he said only minor editing changes had been made for the purposes of clarity.

Mr Bent said this was inconsistent when the paper had published a cartoon showing the Prime Minister as a headless chicken and a letter referring to the President of the United States and his supporters as “Dubbya’s boys”.

The deputy editor Jo Myers said cartoonists traditionally had more artistic freedom to lampoon and caricature well-known people, particularly national political figures, and the reference to Dubbya made fun of American pronunciation in way that was not in the same league as Mr Bent’s “name calling”.

She said Mr Bent’s description meant the Mayor could have “rightly accused” the paper of holding him up to ridicule and contempt, whereas the likelihood of being sued over the use of Dubbya was remote.

The Press Council agrees that with only minor editing, the message of the letter was not changed.

Decisions about whether or not to publish and to edit letters – in this case on grounds of good taste or for legal reasons - are the editor’s.

The complaint is not upheld.