Case Number: 3415

Council Meeting: 7 AUGUST 2023

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: NewsRoom

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance

Ruling Categories: Defamation/Damaging To Reputation
Editorial Discretion / Freedom
Right of Reply

Newsroom published a ReadingRoom newsletter on its site on April 7, 2023, in which a contributing writer reported briefly how a glass of wine had been thrown in his face at the Devonport Public Library by the author of a book he had mocked in a Listener column 20 years earlier.

Rory Sweetman complained that the newsletter gave a very partial and false account of why he threw wine in the writer’s face and asked for a right of reply. Dr Sweetman said he had received legal advice that the column was “misleading, factually incorrect and therefore potentially defamatory and will cause significant damage to my private and professional reputations.”

Newsroom co-editor Tim Murphy said he was unable to discern how the column was incorrect, misleading or defamatory “given that you publicly threw the contents of a glass of wine into the face of another attendee at a public event and have discussed it subsequently in national media. Any damage to your reputation, if any, surely would come back to that action, rather than what was said or implied about your book in an unrelated publication some two decades ago.”

Mr Murphy added that Newroom did not run letters to the editor and nor did he believe that Dr Sweetman’s issues with the writer of the newsletter could make a comment piece for Newsroom.

The Media Council notes that while the newsletter comment might not have reflected well on Dr Sweetman it was not shown to be inaccurate or unfair given that Dr Sweetman brought the bad publicity on himself by his own actions in throwing the glass of wine.  We understand why Dr Sweetman finds the raising of the event upsetting, but there is no principle breached in reminding readers of an event of many years ago.

There was no case to show that the item had to be corrected. As for the plea for Newsroom to allow him to have his say, Media Council Principle (5) Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters,  states that publication of letters are the prerogative of editors.  The Media Council does not tell editors what letters they must publish.

Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.


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