The New Zealand Press Council has declined to uphold a complaint against the Otago Daily Times by J.M.Stevenson, director of a Dunedin-based organisation called the Centre for Psycho-Sociological Development. The Centre says it is a non-political organisation that exists to contribute to the development of society by the application of “depth psychology” to the means by which New Zealanders see themselves and their world.

Mr Stevenson was unhappy that the newspaper published a column by a political commentator on the Government’s work-for-the-dole scheme which ignored what the Centre believes are this country’s obligations under a number of international conventions to which New Zealand is a signatory. The Centre had earlier issued a press statement on these obligations. The situation, Mr Stevenson said, was compounded by an editorial in the Otago Daily Times on the same subject. He said that while the Centre believed in freedom of the press, that freedom was not absolute and withholding such information was “tantamount to propaganda.”

The newspaper’s editor disagreed and suggested Mr Stevenson submit a letter for publication setting out his concerns. Mr Stevenson declined the offer, preferring instead to complain to the Press Council. In his submission to the Council, Mr Stevenson said that to have accepted the invitation to write a letter for consideration of publication, would have meant the Centre agreed that the newspaper had no obligations to readers. He invited the Press Council to consider the ethical implications of a newspaper withholding information.

In the exchange of correspondence that accompanied the complaint, the editor said it was extreme and unreasonable to claim that because every possible view was not canvassed in an article, that article was therefore biased and amounted to propaganda. As an editor he had the right to publish what he chooses.

Me Stevenson objected to that, saying editors were obliged to act in accordance with what he saw as the principle of the right of people in a democracy to know. The purpose of his complaint, he continued, was to have the Press Council establish such a principle.

The Press Council declined to accept that invitation. It said it believed it was unfortunate Mr Stevenson chose not to take up the offer to express his views in a letter to the editor. Had he done so those views may have provided the newspaper with a news tip worth inquiring into for a consequent news story. That the newspaper chose not to do that, however, was its right and was no doubt influenced by the fact the Centre which Mr Stevenson represents is not well known.


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