HISTORIC PLACES TRUST AGAINST THE CHRONICLE

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust is responsible for buildings at Kerikeri known as the Stone Store and Kemp House which have historical significance to the area.
Last year the Trust proposed to erect a 1.8 metre high wooden fence around the property. The proposal has been the subject of keen debate with many local residents, on various grounds, registering strong objections to the erection of the fence.

A cartoon of a graffiti-covered fence was the subject of a complaint to the New Zealand Press Council by the Historic Places Trust against The Chronicle,Kerikeri. The cartoon accompanied letters published on 15 November 1996 objecting to the said proposal. The Council did not uphold the complaint.

The Trust complained in its first letter to the newspaper that the cartoon could only inflame an already controversial issue and invite vandalism against Trust property. It prepared a statement headed “Inappropriate Cartoon” for The Chronicle to run. It said:
“It has been drawn to our attention that readers may have taken the appearance of the cartoon in The Chronicle as in some way an endorsement by The Chronicle of public acts of vandalism against public or private property, and against the fence itself, should it be built. The Chronicle wishes to make it perfectly clear that it in no way endorses vandalism or any other criminal activity.........” In later claims, the Trust linked unspecified vandalism of the Stone Store and threats received by Trust staff to “misinformation,” in The Chronicle, in particular the cartoon.

The editor of The Chronicle declined to publish the supplied statement saying the only negative feedback about the cartoon was from the Trust. She twice offered to publish letters from the Trust about the cartoon, an offer not taken up. She said the cartoon had been submitted by a reader and was illustrating concerns about graffiti that had been raised in the newspaper previously.

It is clear that the relationship between The Chronicle and the Historic Places Trust has been strained and that the cartoon has been just one instance of friction between them. The Council offers no comment on the merits, or otherwise of the proposed fence, but the Council cannot uphold the complaint.

Previous decisions have made it clear the Council believes newspapers should have a wide discretion in the publication of cartoons. As vehicles for social and political comment, they cannot necessarily be taken literally or be seen as endorsing what they depict. The Historic Places Trust weakened its case by not accepting an offer to put its objections before readers of The Chronicle by way of a letter. The prepared statement
would have associated the newspaper and its cartoon with vandalism through forcing the newspaper to deny any endorsement of vandalism or other criminal activity and usurped the newspaper’s editorial role.

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