Case Number: 950

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2003

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Sunday-Star Times

Ruling Categories: Taste Lack of

Ken Orr complained about an article published in the Sunday Star-Times. The opinion piece which appeared on 10 August 2003 was written by Michael Laws and was titled “Why I’m proud to have been an altar boy”. The complaint relates to the statement in the article, “you see, I knew that the archdeacon had papist tendencies and that he believed in the doctrine of transubstantiation. In other words, that at Holy Communion the wafers and the wine are not symbolic but are miraculously transformed into the real body and blood of Jesus Christ. It was ghoulish nonsense of course but there’s no accounting for faith.”

Mr Orr agreed with the rights of free speech, freedom of the press and religious freedom. However he thought it was a misuse of the freedom of the press for Mr Laws to mock and ridicule the religious beliefs of others. He thought the media had a duty to uphold the right of religious freedom.

The acting-editor responded to Mr Orr, “ Mr Laws is entitled to his opinion, as you are to yours.” He invited Mr Orr to submit a letter for publication.

The Press Council has long upheld the rights of columnists to use opinion columns to express their personal views. The views expressed in the article were clearly those of Mr Laws. Mr Laws is entitled to his views and to publish them under his name.

The Council has also noted on more than one occasion that the right to free speech means being able to espouse views that are politically incorrect, unpopular, even downright wrong. It is understood that on some occasions these views will be offensive to some people.

In this instance accepting the acting-editor’s invitation to write a contra view would have been the best course. The invitation was a sincere effort to publish the full range of views. Providing such a rebuttal met the publications editorial criteria, it would have had a good chance of being published.

The complaint is not upheld.