JACK INGRAM AGAINST THE WEEKEND SUN
Case Number: 2062
Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2009
Verdict: Not Upheld
Publication: The Weekend Sun
Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Obligation to Publish
The complaint concerned the newspaper’s use of material supplied by Mr Ingram, the Chairperson for the Bay of Plenty Labour Electorate Committee, in the run up to the general election in November 2008. Mr Ingram has referred to it as a ‘letter’ he wrote for publication but, as the editor points out, it was more in the nature of a press statement: it was not addressed to the editor, signed by Mr Ingram, or marked for publication in the letters column, and it was partly written in the third person including quotes from Mr Ingram.
What is not in dispute is that Mr Ingram hand-delivered his press statement to the newspaper office and asked that it be published in full or not at all, to which the response was that that would be a matter of editorial discretion.
The press statement put forward Mr Ingram’s personal view that there could be tactical advantages in Labour voters giving the party vote to Labour but the local electorate vote to the New Zealand First candidate. It noted that the Labour party was following a “two ticks” campaign but set out Mr Ingram’s reasons for taking a different line.
The newspaper did not publish the press statement unaltered. It ran a news story on 7 November 2008 headlined “Labour chairman backs tactical approach”. The story reported Mr Ingram’s view as put forward in his press statement, including a quotation. It also reported comment from the local Labour candidate and the party’s Tauranga chairman.
Mr Ingram objected to the use of the press statement in an abridged form. In particular, he objected to the omission of two sentences in the press statement to the effect that tactical voting was just that and would not reflect poorly on the abilities or dedication of the local Labour candidate. Mr Ingram asked that the press statement be published in full to set the record straight.
The newspaper did not respond and Mr Ingram complained to the Press Council that the failure to publish his press statement in full and, in particular, that the omission of the two sentences noting that it was no reflection on the local Labour candidate was unfair and lacked balance. The Press Council does not agree.
Editors retain discretion on publication of unsolicited material, subject always to the requirement for accuracy, fairness and balance. Some care is required when editing correspondence that will be published under the author’s name. The requirements are far less stringent for press statements.
In this case, the published story went beyond the contents of the press statement to provide balancing comment from the local Labour candidate and the Labour party itself. The story was accurate, fair and balanced. The use of the term ‘tactical’ inherently communicated that the local vote was to be made independent of the merit of the particular candidates in issue. The omission of the two sentences in question did not render the story unfair or unbalanced.
The complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Beck, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Alan Samson and Lynn Scott.