Case Number: 622

Council Meeting: AUGUST 1996

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Otago Daily Times

The Press Council has again upheld the right of editors to decide which letters they publish, rejecting a complaint against the Otago Daily Times.

Mr John Windsor complained to the Press Council on 15 June about a letter published in the Otago Daily Times on 12 June and the paper’s subsequent failure to publish his response. The original letter, written by Bill Milburn, was critical of Dunedin mayor Sukhi Turner.

Mr Windsor said the letter was a series of scurrilous remarks and slurring innuendoes about the mayor. Publishing such an inflammatory and unbalanced letter in its entirely meant the editor, wittingly or unwittingly, had aligned himself with the sentiments of the writer. By refusing to publish his letter and by abridging another letter criticising Mr Milburn’s attack, the editor had laid himself open to charges of prejudice, Mr Windsor said.

In response the editor of the Otago Daily Times Geoff Adams said Mrs Turner had not complained about the Milburn letter. She had merely not responded to a copy of the letter the newspaper had sent her. Nor had the second correspondent complained about his letter being abridged.

Mr Adams said the paper received many letters and it was his right as editor to decide which letters to publish. In this case he decided against publishing Mr Windsor’s letter. He believed the Otago Daily Times treatment of letters to the editor was scrupulously fair and responsible.

Mr Windsor replied that he still believed the editor had overstepped the mark of journalistic ethics by not allowing him (Mr Windsor) a right of reply to Mr Milburn’s comments.

The Press Council has consistently upheld the right of editors to decide which letters they publish. In this case there were no unusual or exceptional circumstances to change that view. The complaint was rejected.