Case Number: 740

Council Meeting: April 1999

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

A complaint that a letter published in the letters to the editor column of The Press was offensive in its wording, has not been upheld by the New Zealand Press Council.

The letter was published on 5 February under the name of J.A.Price and related to racist graffiti and vandalism which had been directed at an employer who had a high percentage of Maori workers on his payroll.

A week earlier two letters to the editor were published which were uncomplimentary to Maori and some Waitangi Tribunal claims. The 5 February letter referred by name to both of those letter writers as “…these and all other bigots who inveigh against treaty settlements….”

Mr Denis Hampton who complained first to the editor and then the Press Council said the wording was offensive. The word “bigot” was inflammatory and should have been edited out.

In response, the editor said the letter of 5 February expressed valid, if provocative views that fell short of being offensive. He believed robust debate should be encouraged. The editor noted that the named letter writers described by J.A.Price as bigots, had not complained. If such a letter were received it would be considered for publication.

The Council found the Price letter was strongly expressed and that the word”bigot” was a strong word.. Nevertheless it expressed the writer’s opinion and, as such, the editor was under no obligation to edit out the word. Views which do not comply with a general feeling, or the majority, are not offensive per se.

Vigorous debate is to be encouraged and it is clear that letters from all aspects of the issue are published from time to time in The Press.

The complaint is not upheld.