WAYNE CHURCH AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 994

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2004

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

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

The President of the New Zealand Secular Society, Mr Wayne Church, complains that the editor of The Dominion Post has wrongly exercised his discretion in publishing statements of Cardinal Williams, Archbishop of Wellington, in an article headlined “Civil union anger a bit sad, says PM”. He further complains that his letter to the editor, critical of Cardinal Williams’ statements, was not published.

The Press Council does not uphold the complaints.

The article complained of was published by the newspaper on 27 June 2004. It contained quotations from a “strongly worded article on the ‘spiritual bankruptcy’ of liberalism” by the Catholic Archbishop of Wellington, Cardinal Thomas Williams.

On 29 June Mr Church wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the Archbishop, and the remarks quoted from the Archbishop’s article. This letter was not published.

Mr Church wrote to the editor on 12 July 2004, noting that his letter had not been published and asking for an explanation about non-publication. The editor did not reply to this letter. Subsequently, Mr Church laid a formal complaint with the Press Council.

Mr Church has made lengthy submissions to the Press Council. In essence, these submissions allege wrongful use of editor’s discretion. He maintains that the editor’s decision to quote Cardinal Williams’s statements in the article is discriminatory against minority groups, particularly ‘gays’. He also complains that the non-publication of his letter to the editor, which criticizes the Cardinal’s statements and attitudes, is further indication of editorial discrimination.

In response to Mr Church’s complaints, the editor maintains that the views of Cardinal Williams to the Civil Union Bill are newsworthy and should have been published. The Press Council agrees.

The editor has furnished the Press Council with copies of published letters to the editor about the Civil Union Bill. Some of these letters, published after publication of the article in question, relate specifically to the words attributed to Cardinal Williams, and are highly critical. Indeed, their substance is very similar to Mr Church’s unpublished letter. The editor maintains the newspaper has presented a range of views in the letters published.

The Council is satisfied that Cardinal Williams’s remarks, although strongly worded, are presented within an article in which a range of views about the Civil Union Bill is presented. The Prime Minister’s response to Cardinal Williams is reported in some detail, and comments from other political leaders are also included.

The Council, therefore, does not uphold the complaint because it is the editor’s right to publish newsworthy comments.

Additionally, the Council’s Principle that selection and treatment of letters for publication are the prerogative of the editor, who is to be guided by fairness, balance and public interest in the correspondents’ views, has not been breached by the non-publication of Mr Church’s letter.

Ms Suzanne Carty took no part in the consideration of this complaint.