Auckland woman Lyn Gautier has complained to the New Zealand Press Council about the use of a profanity in the New Zealand Herald’s new weekend magazine, Canvas. The complaint has not been upheld.

The word “Christ!” appeared as an expletive in a column written by Lyn Loates-de-Roles, that discussed the dangers of being distracted by using a cell phone when driving. Her column debates the rights and wrongs of the practice and current public discussion about whether New Zealand should join 49 other countries and ban it.

Mrs Gautier, who said she was a Christian, objected strongly to the use of the word in the column. She said there was any one of a hundred expletives that the columnist might have used, including some that would offend minority and/or ethnic groups.

She said she had never seen the word used in that way in the newspaper before and felt that in replying to her written letter of complaint, editor-in-chief Gavin Ellis had been inadequate.

Defending the newspaper and his columnist, Mr Ellis told the Council that the paper’s stylebook stated that expletives were to be avoided but acknowledged that there would be exceptions. He believed the Loates-de-Roles column was one of those occasions.

The word “Christ!” he said, was used in the context of a reproduced conversation that the columnist had had with herself when she had recalled, with no small amount of alarm, the consequences of lost concentration when driving.

Further, he said, the Concise Oxford Dictionary recognised the use of the expletive as an expression of surprise, but did not record its use as offensive.

He apologised if the use of the term had offended Mrs Gautier, for that had not been the Herald’s intention.

The Press Council found that, while the use of profanities would always offend some readers, it could not uphold the complaint. It found that, while most newspapers rejected the use of expletives and swearing in their news columns, they also accepted it sometimes in direct quotes or in columns, where writers were often conversational in tone and thus had more licence.

The Council said it noted the paper’s policy on the use of questionable language, but accepted the editor-in-chief’s argument that newspapers were reflections of the societies in which they operated.

As a result, they would mirror the changing views, mores and language that their readership used and accepted. The complaint is not upheld.

Mr Jim Eagles took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


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