J BURKE AGAINST THE EVENING POST

The Press Council has not upheld a complaint by Mr John Burke, Mayor of Porirua against the Evening Post in relation to a letter to the editor published 30th of May 1998. Mr Burke’s complaint is that the letter was abridged and that this is typical of the unfair treatment of Mr Burke by the Evening Post.

An Evening Post reporter spoke with Mr Burke on the 24th of February 1998 about a trip Mr Burke was about to take to Israel as President of Sister Cities New Zealand. Mr Burke asked her not to run the story because it would alert the public to the fact that his wife would be alone at home. In the past the mayor’s wife had had a frightening experience by being the recipient of an highly offensive letter while Mr Burke was overseas. On the reporter’s suggestion Mr Burke spoke to the chief reporter from the Evening Post who confirmed they would proceed with the story. The chief
reporter indicated to Mr Burke that his wife’s security was an issue for the police and not for the Evening Post. The Evening Post did proceed with the story.

Mr Burke wrote a letter to the Evening Post explaining again his reasons for wishing to avoid publicity about his trip. The letter to the editor was abridged and marked accordingly because the following sentence was omitted: “Incidentally, I was disappointed that an Evening Post staff member I discussed this with expressed the view, that my wife’s safety was a matter for the police not the Evening Post.”
Mr Burke complained that this was an important part of the letter and should not have been deleted. The Evening Post responded that the abridgement was in line with normal and fair editorial policy.

The Council accepted that the basic thrust of Mr Burke’s letter to the editor was still in the letter as published. The editor omitted the subject sentence because a full development of the remark, with all its implications, would change its complexion from indifference to justification for a newspaper not to accept responsibility for
protection of individuals by suppressing news about a public figure.

The Council considered that the Evening Post was entitled to publish details of Mr Burke’s travel arrangements. As a city mayor Mr Burke is undoubtedly a significant public figure and his trip was newsworthy on an aspect of his duties regardless of how it was funded. The Council had sympathy with his wife’s situation but felt that the solution to her problem did not lie with the newspaper. The Council did not find it
necessary to deal with the generalised allegations of unfair treatment by the Evening Post.

The complaint was not upheld.

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