EUGENE MOORE (PRIDE MEDIA) AGAINST THE SUNDAY STAR-TIMES

Case Number: 664

Council Meeting: AUGUST 1997

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Sunday-Star Times

A complaint by Eugene Moore of the Pride Media team at Auckland’s Gay and Lesbian Pride Centre against the Sunday Star-Times has not been upheld by the New Zealand Press Council. Mr Moore complained about the way the Star-Times handled the aftermath of an article it printed on 3 March.

The contributed article was written by Bruce Logan, director of the Christchurch-based New Zealand Educational Development Foundation. It canvassed what Mr Logan saw an attempt by a secular news media and others to portray homosexual and lesbian lifestyles as equivalent to heterosexual lifestyles, with consequences for the institution of marriage and for children.

Mr Moore contacted the newspaper to offer a response to the Logan article. The paper agreed to consider it, and a response was thus prepared, focusing on what Mr Moore described as the NZDEF’s Christian “agenda.” Mr Moore’s article accused the Foundation of fundamentalist beliefs that were anti-gay, and of engaging in “stealth activism” by not acknowledging its Christian roots in the original article.

The Star-Times chose not to publish the Moore piece.

Mr Moore then contacted the paper’s editor, Michael Forbes, who suggested he put his complaint in writing. A letter for publication followed, accusing the paper of double-standards in decision-making -- another letter to the editor had been published accusing the Aids Foundation of being a homosexual propaganda unit -- as did at least one other from a Wellington reader. Neither was chosen for publication.

Mr Moore then complained to the Press Council. In a detailed and lengthy submission, he complained that:
* The Star-Times had published the Logan article without revealing the NZEDF’s Christian foundations;
* the paper had refused to publish the Pride Media team response; and
*It declined to publish at least three letters to the editor in reply.

Mr Moore also provided the Council with copies of NZEDF literature to support claims of its Christian bias.

Mr Forbes, in his reply to the Press Council, said the entire issue had been handled by the paper’s former deputy editor who was no longer in New Zealand. In that person’s absence, Mr Forbes said, he expected the Logan article was chosen because it was deemed of interest to readers. Had he personally arbitrated in the debate that followed, Mr Forbes said, he might have queried the relevance to readers of Mr Moore’s offered response, and whether it was a reasonable response to Mr Logan or an opportunity to spread propaganda.

Newspapers, he said from his more-than 47 years’ experience, often found themselves in no-win situations when covering issues involving pressure groups. He also rejected Mr Moore’s claims of an editorial double-standard, citing the range of pro-and anti-homosexuality letters published in the previous 12 months.

In further correspondence with the Council, Mr Moore said chiefly at issue was the fact that the paper had refused to make any move towards revealing the religious nature of the NZEDF. The Star-Times, he wrote, could have given an assurance that any future Logan articles would acknowledge the Foundation’s Christian bias.

Mr Forbes’ brief response said the former deputy editor plainly did not see the significance Mr Moore vested in the religious aspects of Mr Moore’s background. But that suggested no conspiracy.

In not upholding the complaint the Press Council restated its oft-repeated opinion that no newspaper has an obligation to publish unsolicited material or letters to the editor.

It said readers of the Logan article would have been able to draw their own conclusions from the nature of its content about the philosophies espoused by its author on behalf of the NZEDF. However, the Council commended to editors the practice of providing, where appropriate, relevant contextual information about contributing writers or organisations to readers.