K.STEVENSON AGAINST THE SOUTHLAND TIMES

Case Number: 658

Council Meeting: JULY 1997

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Southland Times

The New Zealand Press Council has declined to uphold a complaint by Invercargill artist and gallery owner Kevin Stevenson against the Southland Times.

The complaint was over a report in the newspaper on an exhibition he held in the city. In letters to the editor and later to the Press Council, he said his treatment from the Times was unprofessional.

He said he had not been interviewed, that the paper had failed to keep an interview appointment with him, and that the Times’s seven-paragraph report contained errors, was misleading and was offensive.

The article had suggested, for example, he had taken lessons from other Southland artists before his own exhibition when “Southland has a very low standard of artist.” This reference was thus a blatant attempt to denigrate his work. Further, the editor’s responses to his complaints about the article were arrogant, rude, vitriolic, personal, and betrayed his own ignorance, Mr Stevenson wrote. He acknowledged he had had a telephone conversation with a reporter, but his diary showed an in-gallery interview had been set up and not kept, without explanation.

The Southland Times , he told the Press Council, should be reprimanded for its low journalistic endeavour. He also said a “courteous and well-mannered apology befitting an editor of a newspaper would suffice.”

Times editor Clive Lind defended the article both to Mr Stevenson and the Council. He acknowledged one error in the article, which, he said was corrected quickly, but said his reporter’s notes backed up the rest of the article. He disputed Mr Stevenson’s contention that he had not been interviewed. In the newspaper’s view, a reporter’s conversation with him by telephone constituted an interview, Mr Lind said. An appointment had been made for a photograph to be taken at the gallery, and that had been kept.

Mr Lind said he would not publish Mr Stevenson’s letter to the editor because he believed it was inaccurate and that it was an attempt to gain further free publicity. Mr Lind denied the allegations of rudeness and arrogance.

The editor also enclosed a copy of a work Mr Stevenson had recently shown at a public exhibition which was critical of the Times and himself. Referring to that piece of work in one of his letters to the Press Council, Mr Stevenson said it was the role of artists in any community to provoke comment.

The Press Council in declining to uphold the complaint found that the article was a straightforward report on an art exhibition which apparently contained one error. The newspaper had put that right.

The Council suggested the editor might have also considered publishing Mr Stevenson’s letter with an appropriate footnote, but said it would be understandable if the tone of Mr Stevenson’s complaint, on top of a highly critical piece of work about the newspaper and Mr Lind personally at a public art exhibition, had affected the editor’s decision not to. Publication of the judgment would, in any case, achieve the same result.