FRONTIER AND WESTERN SHOOTERS AGAINST THE WAIRARAPA NEWS

An editor’s right to free expression has been upheld by the New Zealand Press Council in declining to uphold a complaint by the Frontier and Western Shooting Sports Association against the Wairarapa News.

The Council regarded the case as an important one because the editor of the Wairarapa News (a community newspaper published at Masterton) had been subjected to threats and intimidation after writing an editorial calling for tougher gun control laws.In the opinion of the Press Council the reaction of the shooting association had been extreme and unwarranted.

In September 1998 the editor Nicholas Boyack had written an editorial criticising the Government’s response to the 12987 report by Sir Thomas Thorp recommending changes to gun control laws. The editorial was robust and made a strong call for gun control laws.

Mr F.Hayes, a licensed firearms dealer, complained to the Council on behalf of the Frontier and Western Shooting Sports Association (FWSSA) in October. The complaint was twofold. It claimed Mr Boyack had abused his position as editor by running the editorial and also accused him of demonstrating bias by deleting reference to the Wairarapa Pistol Club in an advertising feature on Daffodil Day activities.

Mr Hayes said shooting sports associations welcomed informed debate on firearms control but “we become incensed when we have to suffer the likes of Mr Boyack’s uninformed and unintelligent actions .”

In response Mr Boyack said he wrote the editorial to challenge the way some people thought about guns. It represented his honest opinion. He had published a number of letters which opposed the editorial. As well, he had offered Mr Hayes and the association the right of reply. They had not taken up his offer,

Mr Boyack said with regard to the advertising supplement references to the pistol club’s activities had been cut because of lack of space. The reference to the pistol club had been deleted by another journalist before it came back to Mr Boyack for final editing.

Both Mr Hayes and Mr Boyack provided the Council with copies of the correspondence over the issue. Mr Hayes said the FWSSA did not believe the editor was trying to make the paper lively. It believed he was simply bringing scorn on people who were interested in firearms.

Mr Boyack said he had considered making his own complaint to the Press Council against the FWSSA because of what he considered to be threats and bullying from it.

In its consideration of the complaint, The Press Council looked closely at the correspondence between the two men. It believed Mr Boyack had been subjected to a heavy-handed campaign from the association and other gun enthusiasts who objected to his editorial.

While the editorial had been strongly worded, it was nonetheless, an editor’s right to express such opinions. Democracy relied on freedom of the press and the Association seemed to be unable to grasp this important point.

Mr Boyack had given opponents of his views the opportunity to express their opposition in letters to the editor and he had expressly offered the Association the right of reply. The Association, for whatever reason, had ignored the offer.

In the case of the advertising supplement, that was essentially a commercial relationship between the newspaper and the purchaser of the supplement, apparently the Carterton District Council.

The Press Council rejected the complaint on both points. The Wairarapa News had every right to publish the editorial it did. Mr Boyack had demonstrated some fortitude in the face of an excessive reaction from gun enthusiasts while at the same time allowing the newspaper to be used as a forum for debate on an important topic of the day.

The editor’s conduct and the conduct of the newspaper are to be commended.

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