The Press Council has declined a complaint against the Manawatu Evening Standard, but expressed concern the paper had run a critical footnote about an unpublished letter.

Bryan Forrest complained on 26 January to the Council that the Evening Standard had published a snide footnote about one of his unpublished letters on 29 December last year. The footnote said: "Bryan Forrest: your letter of 28 December is notable for its single-minded repetitiveness."

Mr Forrest also complained about a second footnote to another correspondent a few days later which said: "Your points on Bryan Forrest and cycle helmets are noted."

Mr Forrest said it was unfair of the paper to criticise his letter when it was not published. The second footnote had also alerted readers to the fact Mr Forrest was the subject of some comment without telling them the detail of those comments.

In response editor John Harvey said Mr Forrest had been a regular correspondent promoting opposition to the mandatory wearing of cycle helmets. The debate had been vigorous to start with but became so repetitive and close-minded on both sides of the argument that it became increasingly tedious for readers.

The editor saw no reason to apologise to Mr Forrest for the footnote. While in some circumstances it might be an abuse to criticise an unpublished letter, in this case the editor had no doubt readers would have been only too aware of the tenor of Mr Forrest's letter. The editor said the footnote was a simple cry of "enough is enough."

As for the second footnote that was simply to point out to the other correspondent which of his letters was not going to be published. Mr Forrest accepted the editor had the right not to publish letters, but he said the footnote had not made general criticisms of the cycle helmet debate but had specifically criticised his (Mr Forrest's) letter. That was unfair.

The Council found the complaint not serious enough to uphold but noted it was bad practice for a newspaper to run critical footnotes on unpublished letters. Had the editor wanted to end the debate on cycle helmets he should have simply said the Evening Standard would no longer publish letters on the issue.


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