The New Zealand Press Council has dismissed a complaint made by Deborah Moran of Age Concern against the Sunday Star-Times about a column by Frank Haden which appeared on 28 April 1996. The article, “We’re living well beyond our means” defended the recent health reforms and argued in a lively forthright manner that hospital waiting lists were not caused by government incompetence, but because advances in medical science now enabled the elderly to live longer. Using humour and hyperbole it questioned whether their needs should come before those of younger people.

Deborah Moran wrote the editor a letter for publication defending the right of the elderly to healthcare and charging in her covering note that Haden’s article attacked basic human rights. The letter appeared in full on 5 May and the editor also replied to Ms Moran suggesting that both sides had now “ had their say.” On 12 May the paper published a long letter presented as an article from two experts in geriatric medicine, Professors David Richmond and Richard Sainsbury which put the case for medical care for the elderly in an authoritative and vigorous manner.

In her complaint to the Council Ms Moran charged that the article discriminated against the elderly by its suggestion that people should not expect a right to healthcare because of their age. She also questioned some of the facts in the article and repeated her opinion that basic human rights were being attacked.

The editor in reply pointed out that the article had provoked some lively responses, all given generous space, as well as the article from the geriatricians. He claimed that Haden was a regular columnist known for his trenchant style and for being careful with his facts. Also sent to the Press Council was a letter from Frank Haden defending the article, reasserting the main point and stressing the way he had used humour to make people think.

The Press Council did not uphold the complaint. Members recognised that Frank Haden was a weekly columnist whose trenchant and outspoken views from a consistent position were well known and often controversial. The use of wit and strong opinion was well accepted in such columns and their function was often to deliberately provoke debate on issues of the day. In this case the paper had published several forceful rebuttals to Haden’s article, including Ms Moran’s letter and a piece by two

experts in the field which in its stylish manner was quite the equal of the original piece. The Press Council considered both points of view had been well aired and could not support the complaint.


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