The New Zealand Press Council has declined to uphold a complaint against The Dominion newspaper for non-publication of a letter.

Mr Kevin Watson, a member of Porirua City Council, complained to the Press Council after The Dominion failed to publish a letter to the editor discussing the implications of the recent court ruling arising from the Lange v Atkinson defamation case.

Mr Watson protested that by declining to publish his letter the editor was refusing to allow informed debate on a constitutionally important matter because it ran contrary to the interests of newspapers.

The editor responded that The Dominion was able to publish only a small proportion of the letters it received each day. Priority was therefore given to right of reply issues and those which were short, sharp and pertinent and addressed issues of the moment.

Mr Watson subsequently exercised his right to make submissions in person to the Council and a representative of The Dominion also attended. In his oral submission Mr Watson emphasised that he accepted the right of editors to decide what to publish in their newspapers. But he expressed concern that if misused - as he felt was the case in this instance - it could result in debate being stifled and that the newspaper was in effect, acting as a censor.

In considering the complaint the Council noted that numerous previous rulings had declared that a newspaper was not obliged to publish all letters submitted. However, the Council had, on occasions, upheld the right of correspondents to reply to something previously published they may have been vitally affected by. After studying the material members concluded that this was not such a case.

The Council also noted that at approximately 400 words in length Mr Watson's letter was above the normal length of published letters. Members further observed that the topic was one which had been widely canvassed in numerous publications and that, as the ruling had been appealed to the Privy Council, the issue was still very much alive.


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