M COUSINS AGAINST SUNDAY STAR-TIMES

The New Zealand Press Council has reprimanded Sunday Star-Times columnist Frank Haden for using gratuitously offensive language in a column on his experience as a participant in a Hutt City Council resource hearing.

The Council, however has declined to uphold a complaint against the column from city councillor Margaret Cousins, because it felt the main thrust of the article was within the bounds of what is acceptable in an opinion piece.

The column in question, published in the newspaper on 29 March, was a colourful account of Mr Haden’s unsuccessful attempt before a planning committee of the City Council, to prevent a fish and chip shop being opened over his back fence.

This prompted a complaint from Cr Cousins who objected to some of the more
vehement expressions in the article, complained that the column generally lacked balance and expressed concern at a journalist being able to use his position to promote his personal interest. The editor responded that the column was very clearly Mr Haden’s opinion, which he was entitled to express, provided he did so honestly and openly.

The Press Council agreed that any reader of Mr Haden’s columns would quickly recognise that they were very much a forthrightly expressed personal view. In many ways the whole point of such columns was that they did not pretend to be balanced and sometimes were highly personalised.

In this case Mr Haden had used a personal experience to illustrate the frustration felt by a member of the public dealing with local authority resource consent procedures. The Council felt Mr Haden was quite entitled to promote his views in his own idiosyncratic way and it did not uphold the complaint.

However the Press Council did consider Mr Haden was going too far when, in the course of the column, he described one of the members of the subcommittee hearing the case as “a boot-faced woman” who “had obviously made up her mind.” It took the view that it was unnecessary and unacceptable to make such a personal attack on an elected official carrying out a responsible duty of behalf of the community.

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