KEN ORR AGAINST SUNDAY STAR-TIMES

Case Number: 942

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2003

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Sunday-Star Times

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Discrimination
Accuracy

The New Zealand Press Council did not uphold a complaint laid by Ken Orr against a Sunday Star Times’ opinion article written by Michael Laws. The column appeared in May this year and was titled ‘Mallard ducking his moral responsibilities’.

Michael Laws introduced his column by criticising Trevor Mallard’s announcement that Team New Zealand’s next Americas Cup attempt would be underwritten by $34 million. The column meandered from one topic to another with morality the theme linking each point Michael Laws was making.

The column delivered an opinion on the morality of a gay couple who wished to adopt a child but who had to apply to the National Ethics committee in their bid to adopt a child through surrogacy. This led on to the comments that Ken Orr complained of ‘Pretending to be concerned for the child’s welfare, they (the Roman Catholic Church) say they will oppose the adoption’. Michael Laws later in the article stated that ‘On current evidence, a child is more likely to be abused by a Catholic priest than a gay parent’.

Ken Orr objected to both these statements on the grounds that they were outrageous and highly offensive. He stated that he was unaware of any evidence to support the latter allegation, claiming that Michael Laws displayed religious bigotry and undermined religious tolerance and freedom.

The then editor of the Sunday Star-Times replied that ‘Laws may well be displaying religious bigotry and be undermining religious tolerance but he is entitled to be that way’. The assistant editor also argued that the paper could not find any reference to a case of abuse by a gay parent on a child although she conceded that the paper could not claim that one had never occurred.

The Press Council rigorously upholds the concept of the right to free speech. A writer to ‘The Times’ of London stated ‘It has to be said at regular intervals that press freedom is empty if it means the freedom to be caring, compassionate, thoughtful, sensitive and sensible. True freedom of the press can only mean the freedom to be vulgar, stupid, ignorant, offensive and just plain wrong, all of which a columnist sometimes is’. In this instance Michael Laws, as a columnist, was exercising his right to free speech.

The Press Council did not uphold the complaint.