NOEL COX AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 964

Council Meeting: MARCH 2004

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Privacy
Comment and Fact
Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy

The New Zealand Press Council did not uphold an objection lodged by Noel Cox to an opinion piece printed in the New Zealand Herald in November 2003. The article, ‘The curse of a disappointed wife’, was contributed by Beatrix Campbell, a columnist for The Independent in London where the article had first appeared.

The opinion piece observed the wide ranging effects of disclosures by Paul Burrell, Princess Diana’s butler, at his trial late last year, and the impact of these allegations on the Royal household. The columnist considered that ‘Power, sex, secrets and lies are the stuff of the royals’ present troubles.’ She observed that ‘Despite democracy, despite the erosion of deference, the royal system has prevailed. Now it is under threat from the legacy of a disappointed wife and from vengeful servants’. Prince Charles was described as ‘a pointless prince who has loitered on the threshold of absolute personal power, [but who] must surely know that he can’t have the prize for which he, poor man, was made’.

Noel Cox took exception to the columnist’s portrayal of the royal household. He found her article offensive, claiming that the New Zealand Herald should not have been part of such a travesty. He regarded the author as having a biased starting point with little or no objectivity. He also argued that the rumours surrounding Prince Charles were ill-founded and that they were an unacceptable intrusion on his private life. Noel Cox claimed that even opinion pieces should adhere to certain minimum standards of accuracy, fairness and balance.

The Editor-in-Chief of the New Zealand Herald pointed out that the article was published on the Perspective page which is clearly and exclusively the domain for opinion and comment. The basic purpose of such opinion pieces is to allow a writer the opportunity to present a point of view and to enjoy the right of free speech. Beatrix Campbell’s article fell squarely into this category. She was at liberty to make assumptions about the effect of Paul Burrell’s allegations on the Royal lifestyles and to draw her conclusions about the future of the Royal household.

The Press Council acknowledges that Noel Cox is entitled to defend and support the Royal household. The Council also recognises the acknowledged right to free expression of a columnist’s clearly stated opinion. In this case the article was unmistakably attributed as an opinion piece.

The complaint is not upheld.

Mr Jim Eagles took no part in the consideration of this complaint.