CAPITAL COAST HEALTH AGAINST THE EVENING POSTThe New Zealand Press Council has not upheld a complaint against the Evening Post made by Dr John Crawshaw, general manager mental health, on behalf of Capital Coast Health.
Dr Crawshaw, while accepting the Post has the right to express strong opinions, considered it is not acceptable for a newspaper to publish falsehoods within an editorial to support its opinions. The editorial at issue was published on 8 March and was headed "Out on the streets."
According to Dr Crawshaw the editorial falsely alleged, inter alia, that the return of 200 Porirua Hospital patients to the community was motivated entirely or largely by the wish to save money; that Capital Coast Health had permitted the proposal to be dictated by Treasury; and that "it is all very well an accountant or economist stating that mental hospitals have had their day - we would rather have that advice from psychiatrists or psychologists who deal with mentally ill people."
Dr Crawshaw takes the view that these assertions are false and defamatory. He states among other points that the company (Capital Coast Health)has had no contact with Treasury apart from getting Treasury's support after the company had investigated the proposal; and that the proposal has the strong support of medical clinicians; and that the process of change at Porirua Hospital is being led by its mental health service which is headed by Dr Crawshaw, a qualified psychiatrist.
The editor of the Evening Post in a response to the Press Council says "there is no journalistic obligation for editorials - which are in effect comment - to be reasonable, to be equitable, to be even accurate..." Moreover the Post has carried several articles about the mentally ill and published the point of view of Capital Health on the editorial in full in a subsequent edition.
The Press Council has always taken the view that editors may be partial and express strong opinions in strong language in editorials, which may also show bias. However the Council does not agree with the editor that editorials do not even have to be accurate.
Indeed the Council wishes to reassert the view that editors should always take care to be accurate. However there is very often a very fine line between fact and opinion and in the past the Council has given the benefit of the doubt to the editor.
This applies to several complaints of Dr Crawshaw not enumerated above which are clearly opinions and which are not upheld. However there is one point which makes a decision particularly difficult. It concerns the alleged fact that the changes don't have the support of health professionals. While in the Council's view the Evening Post should have been more careful in respect of this issue, the general thrust of the editorial is acceptable. In the circumstances the Council has not upheld the complaint taking account of the fact that the Post published the views of Capital Coast Health in full.
Ms Suzanne Carty, editor of the Evening Post and a member of the New Zealand Press Council, was not present at the Council meeting when the complaint was considered.