UNA CARGILL AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 832

Council Meeting: August 2001

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Accuracy

The Press Council has not upheld a complaint by Mrs Una Cargill of Waikanae against the New Zealand Herald for not publishing a letter to the editor that she submitted.

The complainant gave the Press Council a copy of her letter to the editor dated 14 April, which had been sent by fax. It concerned inaccuracies she identified in an article in the 10-11 March weekend issue of the newspaper. The editor advised the Press Council that the newspaper has no record of receiving the letter. Close scrutiny of the copy of the fax shows an incorrect fax number for the newspaper, but Mrs Cargill is sure that the correct fax number was dialed. While there remains some uncertainty as to whether the newspaper received her message, the issues in the case have been addressed by both parties. The Press Council therefore thinks it appropriate to deal with the complaint in the usual way.

In its 10-11 March edition, as part of the coverage of the new biography of Peter Fraser, the New Zealand Herald published the recollections of Enfys McKenzie, who worked in the Prime Minister’s Department from 1943 to 1945. They included these sentences: “One constant visitor was the union leader F B(sic) Walsh, whose partnership with Fraser was so important. What was interesting was the great difference in their personalities – the PM reserved and formal, Walsh rough in speech and manner. He would walk into the office, throw his homburg on the nearest desk, and go in without delay to meet Fraser.”

Mrs Cargill, the daughter of F P Walsh, wrote to the newspaper on 14 April taking issue with these comments, and alleging inaccuracies in them. Walsh never wore a homburg, and was not rough in speech or manner. She referred to the close relationships her father had with various nuns, prominent judges, and others, as contradicting the latter allegations. She also referred to comments in The Dictionary of Biography, vol 4(DNZB) on Walsh’s physically dominating presence as a negotiator and his powerful oratory.

The letter was not published, and Mrs Cargill asked the editor for an explanation of this. She then complained to the Press Council, claiming that she had been denied an opportunity to challenge untruths published against her father. The editor advised the Council that there was no record of the newspaper having received the letter (as noted above), and that the letters policy, clearly stated each day, says “Letters are not normally acknowledged and may be edited, abridged or discarded.”


As regards the alleged inaccuracy regarding her father’s headgear, it seems clear from Mrs Cargill’s statement and from additional information she sent to the Press Council that Ms McKenzie’s recollection was astray. The matter is probably not of sufficient significance to require further comment from the Press Council.

In respect of the second aspect of the article that she objected to, the description of her father as “rough in speech and manner”, Mrs Cargill expanded her rejection of this in a letter to the Press Council by saying “All his staff that I encountered, and they were many, always spoke of him as polite, gentle and kind.”

The Press Council thinks that Mrs Cargill’s view must be placed alongside other opinions. It notes that the essay on F P Walsh in DNZB also says: “He was a ruthless man who dispatched opponents by whatever means were at his disposal. He aroused enmity on a scale unparalleled in New Zealand labour history, but at the same time he inspired great loyalty, even devotion, among his supporters.”

It is clear from this comment and from the public record that F P Walsh treated people in widely different ways, and that their attitudes towards him correspondingly ranged from deep attachment to strong antipathy. Different views of him no doubt have their individual measure of truth, but no single view captures the whole truth about this complex and controversial figure.

In its Statement of Principles the Press Council emphasises the importance of freedom of expression. Ms McKenzie was entitled to express her view of Mr Walsh’s personality, and the New Zealand Herald was entitled to report it. There was no serious inaccuracy in the original article requiring prompt correction, nor was there an aggressive attack that would have raised the possible need for a balancing response to be allowed. The Press Council has frequently emphasised that it is the prerogative of editors to decide which letters will be published.

The complaint is not upheld.