C.R LATTA AGAINST THE TARANAKI DAILY NEWS

Case Number: 611

Council Meeting: APRIL 1996

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: NULL



A complaint against the Taranaki Daily News over remarks in "Both Barrels", a column of observations about sport was rejected.

In submissions to the editor of the Daily News and later to the Press Council, Mr C.R.Latta contended that two passages from a brief article in "Both Barrels" were offensive and racist and were part of a regular pattern of such comment by the column's authors.

The passages appeared in the Daily News on 27 January. One described cricket umpires in New Zealand and Australia as being "about as competent as Japanese climbers on Mount Egmont" and the other, also dealing with inefficiency among umpires, said that "importing the aptly-named Mahboob Shah of Pakistan" to stand in the New Zealand-Zimbabwe match was a waste of time."

Mr Latta contended that the reference to Japanese climbers was a general denigration of them and he suggested that one of the methods employed by "Both Barrels" was to make offensive comments about names of individuals, about Japanese and Pakistanis and about umpires. He quoted passages from other columns to support his contention that such remarks were part of a general pattern that embodied a subtle but offensive theme. He thought the column had a flavour of racial bias and substituted derogatory and demeaning descriptions for good journalism. He said that he had heard many complaints about the column, even if these were not reflected in letters to the editor.

The editor replied that the authors of "Both Barrels" had no intention to be racist or offensive. The reference to Japanese climbers on Mount Egmont did not apply to Japanese in general but to two young Japanese who, through failure to prepare adequately, had been in difficulty on the mountain shortly before the column was written.

He said that Mahboob Shah's decisions had been widely debated in all segments of the media and that the play on the slang term "boob", meaning to make a mistake, was acceptable within the context of the column which was contending that if dubious decisions were required of an umpire, inefficiency was on offer much closer to home. He denied that the two passages and others quoted by Mr Latta were part of an offensive pattern. Citing those instances out of 100 columns was unfair. The column was not racist and could best be described as irreverent. In five years, Mr Latta was the only one to have complained about it.

During the Press Council's discussion, it was observed that the complaint involved much the same elements of racial references, play on names, and good or bad taste that were the subject of a previous complaint by Mr Latta in January 1994. On that occasion, the Press Council held that the fairly liberal limits for comment available to columnists had not been transcended. The Press Council saw no special or new features in Mr Latta's most recent complaint to justify a change from that earlier assessment. "Both Barrels" had a free-wheeling approach which skirted the boundaries of good taste and specialised in jibes that were unlikely to make eyes shine everywhere but were acceptable in a column of comment and opinion. Accordingly the Press Council did not uphold the complaint.

CASE NO: 628

HOW OLD CAN YOU GET?

A complaint made by Deborah Moran of Age Concern against the Sunday Star-Times about a column by Frank Haden was dismissed.

The article was published on 28 April 1996 and headed “We’re living well beyond our means.” In it the columnist 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 he 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.