BARBARA FAITHFULL AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Case Number: 1062
Council Meeting: AUGUST 2006
Verdict: Not Upheld
Publication: New Zealand Herald
Balance, Lack Of
Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Barbara Faithfull wrote to the editor in response to a letter published in the New Zealand Herald on 24 May, which had criticised an article headlined “The Guinea Pigs and Grave Diggers”. This Weekend Herald article, of 20 May, concerned the jailing of animal rights activists by a British court for a campaign of harassment against the owners of a guinea pig farm. The published letter challenged the article’s portrayal of the Animal Liberation Front as violent.
Mrs Faithfull’s letter took issue with the correspondent’s assertion that the Animal Liberation Front was a non-violent organisation. In three further letters to the NZ Herald (not for publication), on 29 May, 31 May and 4 June, Mrs Faithfull asked why her original letter had not been published and sought replies to her subsequent correspondence. Her letters claimed that the published letter had been misleading and asked the newspaper to clarify the position.
Mrs Faithfull complained to the Press Council on 27 June about the newspaper’s handling of her correspondence. She said that the New Zealand Herald should have published her original letter to the editor, in the interests of balance and fairness, and replied to her subsequent letters.
The Newspaper’s Response
The deputy editor of the New Zealand Herald said the pro-liberationist stance of the published letter had itself served to balance views contained in the 2400-word article that were highly critical of the Animal Liberation Front.
On the second aspect of Mrs Faithfull’s complaint, he said it was not newspaper policy to write back to correspondents explaining why their letters had not been used. The newspaper received more than 100 letters every day; it was not possible to run them all or to enter into further discussion with those writers who were disappointed.
Mrs Faithfull did not accept the New Zealand’s Herald’s response. She said the published letter contained misleading information and for that reason could not be seen to provide balance. She also challenged the newspaper’s statement that it did not enter into discussion about rejected letters, citing an earlier instance concerning another letter she had written to the newspaper.
It is the view of the Press Council that newspapers have the right to publish, or not publish, letters submitted to them for publication. This is contained in the Council’s principles, which also require editors to be guided by fairness and balance.
The Press Council accepts the New Zealand Herald’s view that by publishing the letter, it had provided the balancing view to the opinions expressed in the article about the Animal Liberation Front.
The Council also acknowledges the difficulty of replying to a large number of letter writers each day. It has, however, been frustrating for Mrs Faithfull to have her letters unacknowledged. The Council has noted in the past that an early response from the newspaper can mean that a formal complaint does not result.
The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Beck, Ruth Buddicom, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Denis McLean, Alan Samson, Lynn Scott and Terry Snow.
John Gardner took no part in the consideration of this complaint.