The Press Council has not upheld a complaint against Contact by Mr Angus Gibb who alleged anti-Christian bias and lack of press freedom.

Mr Gibb’s complaint, which covered eight editions of Contact, began 22 March 200l with a front-page story headlined, “Spirit event deemed too spooky for Old St Paul’s.” The story told of the Institute of Spirit Awareness being forced to cancel a planned healing service, after their booking of Old St Paul’s was cancelled by the Historic Places Trust. The spokesperson for the Institute of Spirit Awareness contended the Historic Places Trust had bowed to pressure from the Friends of Old St Paul’s and the Anglican Bishop of Wellington. The Trust’s manager had said the service was not considered an appropriate event for Easter Sunday and that they did not want any particular group to become associated with the facility.

The story led to a vigorous debate in the letters to the editor column. Mr Gibb took issue with this story, another article on the 12 April 2001 and eight letters published between 22 March and 10 May. These, he said, were pro-Spiritualist. He contrasted this with only five pro-Christian letters that he had identified in Contact, during the same period.

He had written 11 letters to the editor (including two complaining of non-publication of his letters). Only two of the total had been published and both had been abridged. Another writer had four letters published in the same period.

The editor in defence of Contact said she was happy the published letters on the topic of Old St Paul’s were fairly chosen and offered a broad range of opinion. Many others had also had their letters rejected.

The editor gave four general reasons why letters may not get published these were: lack of space, excessive length, off the point and repetition. Of Mr Gibb’s letters the editor said, “Sending four letters in five days and expecting them to be published was unrealistic.”

The Council did not regard Mr Gibb’s tally of Christians 5, Spiritualists 10 (referring to items published) as evidence of anti-Christian bias. Indeed it was noted that many of the letters deemed pro-Spiritualist had a finer nuance. Even if this count remained unchallenged, the editor clearly succeeded in ensuring that a variety of views were expressed in Contact. The Council said it was of concern that the complainant had found it necessary to remark on what he held to be the editor’s own beliefs.

Mr Gibb’s second assertion of “lack of press freedom”, the particular of which was the failure to publish all his letters, is similarly not upheld. The Council has consistently stated in its adjudications that the editor of a publication has the final decision about what will be published in the letters to the editor column. That also includes the right to abridge letters, subject to the printed acknowledgement of that fact.


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