A Levin man, Bill Stirling, has complained to the New Zealand Press Council about the way the Horowhenua-Kapiti Chronicle, a community newspaper, handled a letter he wrote to the editor for publication.

The Council, at its May meeting, did not uphold the complaint.

Mr Stirling, who is a long-time letter-writer to several publications, was unhappy at errors in the letter that was published on January 17, 2005. The letter dealt with the status of the North Pole and the territorial aspirations of Canada, Denmark and Russia.

His lengthy missive as published, contained a number of errors; the North Pole became the South Pole, the Arctic was misspelled, a wooden-hulled ship was referred to as a “wooden-pulled” ship and was misnamed, and British explorer Ernest Shackleton became Nelson scientist Ernest Rutherford.

Mr Stirling drew these mistakes to the attention of editor Bernie Whelan and they were corrected on January 22 in a box.

Dissatisfied at the lack of an apology and the way the errors had been corrected, Mr Stirling sought that the letter be republished in its entirety and correctly. He then came to the Press Council, saying he had had no reply.

In his correspondence with the Council, Mr Whelan explained that he believed the corrections to Mr Stirling’s January 17 letter and published five days later were sufficient. When Mr Stirling had complained further, Mr Whelan said, he had incorporated that letter in an occasional column he wrote for readers, Letter from the editor.

The Chronicle, he said, gave Mr Stirling and his views good coverage in the paper, “particularly given that we request letters are kept under 200 words and his generally run to well over that – 300-750 words, covering two to three A4 pages of handwritten opinion and it is rarely edited”.

The Press Council found, therefore, that Mr Stirling did get a reply from the paper to his second letter, though perhaps not in the form he expected.

The Council agreed with Mr Whelan that the paper was generous in its treatment of Mr Stirling’s letters, considering its general word limit.

Though the Council could understand Mr Stirling’s disappointment at the errors in the January 17 letter, it believed the paper had corrected them promptly. The editor could not be fairly criticised for refusing to publish the lengthy letter a second time.

It commended Mr Whelan on his honesty in explaining to readers how the errors came about and the way he felt about mistakes.

Though to the Press Council – and no doubt to readers – the errors in the published letter amounted to sloppy editing, it was evident from the information provided that this was not a case of unethical behaviour by the newspaper but carelessness.

The Council noted too that there can be a risk in transcribing handwritten letters into a newspaper’s computer system, especially when the handwriting is not always easy to read.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Jeffries (Chairman), Suzanne Carty, Aroha Puata, Lynn Scott, Ruth Buddicom, Alan Samson, Murray Williams, Keith Lees, Terry Snow and John Gardner.


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