CHRISTINE BANKS AGAINST THE GREYMOUTH EVENING STARThe New Zealand Press Council did not uphold a complaint lodged by Christine Banks against the Greymouth Evening Star. Her complaint was based on the editor’s right to change the wording of her letter to the editor dated 12 April 2001.
The letter in question, headed ‘Aerodrome Lights’, referred to a front page article ‘Disquiet over aerodrome lighting viewpoints’ on 6 April. It covered the story of whether the proposed night lighting for the Greymouth aerodrome would be used by West Coast District Health Board. The $200,000 funds for the lighting, to enable night time flights to transfer patients from Greymouth to Christchurch hospital, had been publicly raised by local community organisations and individuals. Christine Banks’s letter supported the fact that there was indeed disquiet over the aerodrome lighting and wrote ‘The over-riding issue here is not who will use the runway lights i.e. private versus public interest, but why were we duped into giving money on false pretences and that is extremely serious’. The editor changed the word ‘duped’ to read ‘persuaded’ and abridged the final part of her sentence. The letter was noted as having been abridged. However, Christine Banks complained that the whole meaning of her letter had been changed by replacing ‘duped’ with ‘persuaded’ and also by omitting her personal criticisms of the Air Ambulance Trust chairman and the Grey District Council. She contended that both parties had supported the public raising of the $200,000, when she felt that they were aware that the lighting was not necessary.
Christine Banks had written another letter on this subject on the same day as the one complained of. This second letter, published 5 days later, had a footnote by the editor ‘ Abridged - Correspondence on this matter is nearing an end.’ Christine Banks also took exception to this as she felt that the topic should receive a wider airing.
In response to the latter complaint Kit Carson the editor explained that he was exercising his practice of giving notice that he was likely to terminate the topic unless new material came along. As regards the balance of Christine Banks’s complaint he believed that he had not materially altered her correspondence by his editing. Her second letter incorporated the thrust of her comments which had been abridged from the first letter and between the two published letters Christine Banks’s views had been amply expressed.
An important ingredient in the editor’s response to allegations against him for abridging, or changing, words in Mrs Banks’s letters, is that he abridges to ensure that the company which publishes the newspaper is not open to a claim for defamation. Some of the language and phrases used in the complainant’s letters were sufficiently forthright, to choose a neutral word, to entitle the editor to adopt a cautious approach.
The Press Council did not uphold Christine Banks’s complaint. The editor has ultimate say in what is printed by way of letters to the editor and in this instance Christine Banks’s opinions had been conveyed in her two published letters albeit in an abridged or amended form.