JENNY KIRK AGAINST NORTH SHORE TIMESThe Press Council has not upheld a complaint by Jenny Kirk against the North Shore Times about the editing of a letter to the editor.
Former North Shore City Councillor Jenny Kirk sought a correction from the North Shore Times after the editing of her letter to the editor, published on Thursday 2 August 2007, made it appear that she supported the removal of a pohutukawa tree from outside the Takapuna Boating Club when, in fact, she was opposed to its removal.
The last two paragraphs of her letter, dealing with a perceived conflict of interest involving a member of the Takapuna Community Board, had been cut and replaced with two paragraphs of text from elsewhere that supported the removal of the tree.
The newspaper published a correction on Tuesday 7 August 2002 acknowledging the error and confirming that she was opposed to the removal of the tree.
Ms Kirk accepted that her letter had been too long and would have needed editing, but she was not satisfied with the newspaper’s correction. She complained to the Press Council that while the correction went some way towards mitigating the editing errors, it did not address the main point of her letter; this was her contention that a Takapuna Community Board member had a conflict of interest. She said the correction made no mention of this point.
She then widened her complaint to say there had been similar problems with other letters she had sent. She said the newspaper seemed unable to correctly print letters from people with opposing viewpoints.
The Newspaper’s Response
The newspaper’s editor said the error was noted in an email exchange with Ms Kirk, full responsibility was accepted and a correction was published immediately. The correction was published in boxed form, to give it prominence. The editor assured Ms Kirk that the North Shore Times was objective in its handling of copy.
The editor said the letter had been condensed because it had exceeded guidelines on length. Her letter was 389 words when readers were asked to restrict letters to 200 words.
There are three parts to Ms Kirk’s complaint: the initial editing errors; the failure of the correction to address the question of conflict of interest; and her view that the newspaper was prone to editing errors when dealing with opposing viewpoints.
This complaint has been considered in light of two of the Press Council’s principles governing letters to the editor and corrections.
In the first aspect to the complaint, the editing confused the issue by adding an opposing viewpoint to the bottom of Ms Kirk’s letter. This was readily acknowledged by the newspaper, which promptly published a correction pointing that she was against the proposal to remove the tree.
As to the second part of the complaint, the editing removed paragraphs that essentially repeated her argument about conflict of interest that had been made in the opening statements of the letter. Ms Kirk’s point had not been lost. It is a newspaper’s prerogative to edit letters, provided there is fairness and balance.
The Press Council is unable to express a view about the newspaper’s treatment of previous letters from Ms Kirk, or its treatment of other letters published in the same edition, having had no specific complaints or evidence to consider.
The Press Council, by a majority of ten to one, does not uphold the complaint.
Council members considering the complaint were Barry Paterson, Aroha Beck, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, John Gardner, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Denis McLean, Alan Samson and Lynn Scott.