RICHARD RYAN AGAINST THE PRESS

Case Number: 834

Council Meeting: August 2001

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

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

The New Zealand Press Council has not upheld a complaint by Mr Richard Ryan against The Press and has reiterated its long held principle that - subject to questions of fairness and balance - editors are free to decide which letters they will publish.

On February 3 and February 10 The Press published Soapbox articles giving the two sides in the debate between special creation and evolution.

Following the first article Mr Ryan wrote a letter to the editor giving his perspective on the topic. It was not used. Following the second article he wrote again in similar terms. Again his letter did not appear in the paper.
Noting that several other letters on the topic had been published, and other writers had their views summarised in the paper’s In A Few Words column, Mr Ryan wrote to the editor saying he had been unfairly treated and requesting an explanation. When he got no reply Mr Ryan complained to the Press Council.

In the normal way the Council referred the complaint to the editor of The Press who replied directly to Mr Ryan. The editor explained that the paper had received a great many letters on the subject and, even though it ran several in full and others in summarised form, it could not use them all. Mr Ryan had had letters published in the past but on this occasion had missed out.

Mr Ryan dismissed this as a stock reply, which failed to address his concern and proceeded with his complaint. This, he explained, was not so much the failure to publish his letters but the fact that letters from other readers on the same topic kept appearing in the paper after his was rejected making him feel he had been unfairly treated.

Responding to the Council, the editor said the paper had received about 60 letters on the topic and had published 32 in total, which amounted to a considerable amount of space. Unfortunately not all could be used and Mr Ryan’s contributions were not among those chosen for publication.

The Press Council has stated in many decisions and in its Statement of Principles that the selection of letters is the prerogative of the Editor and that must always be the case. The principles do require editors to be guided by fairness, balance and public interest in making their selection and in this instance it is clear that The Press gave considerable space to a wide range of readers’ views on the points raised in the two Soapbox articles.
It is understandable that Mr Ryan should be frustrated at being unable to get his letter published on this occasion but readers do need to be aware that newspaper space is limited and editors cannot possibly be expected to run all the letters they receive.