M. JAMES AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 588

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 1995

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

A complaint by Mr Marcus James of Raglan to the Press Council that an article in the New Zealand Herald had breached journalistic ethics, has not been upheld. Mr James took exception to an article, published on 12 April headed graphically the "opossum war."

The article covered a range of issues on methods of fighting the opossum pest and focussed on the use of the toxin 1080, its possible side-effects and the alternatives to it, which were discussed at a seminar at Tokaanu.

In an 18-page letter to the editor, Mr James set out his grounds for disputing the content of the feature article written by Kingsley Field. In essence the complaint was that "more than 90 percent" of the 2,000 word article had breached journalistic ethics. Mr James claimed inaccurate reporting and said the article carried serious imputations against the character of opponents of the 1080 regime.

Responding to the complaint, the deputy editor of the Herald, Mr D.Milne said he was not clear as how to respond to the 9,000 word letter from Mr James. In the Herald's view the complainant had mis-read the article, which was a "fair and balanced" account of the proceedings of a conference on the control of opossums.

"The fact that Mr James objects to much of what was printed seems to us to be a case of blaming the messenger for the message," Mr Milne wrote.

Mr Milne said the author of the article had no particular regard for the use of 1080 against opossums, nor had the New Zealand Herald. "What we have stated editorially is that we believe opossums to be a national menace of major proportions, and that they should be tackled by the most cost-effective methods available, as determined by scientific research rather than by prejudice and hearsay."

Mr James was not satisfied with the response from the deputy editor and reiterated to the Council the gravaman of his complaint, that the Herald, by not taking into account his own research of scientific sources, had displayed a bias against the opponents of 1080 poison.






The Council found that Mr James had not demonstrated any clear breach of journalistic ethics. On the contrary it found the article displayed a careful and restrained discussion of an issue with wide-ranging implications.

Mr James had read into the article (and into Mr Milne's letters) a slur on the integrity of those of a different opossum/tb control "faith."

Any objective appraisal of the article suggests that any inferences Mr James reads into it, are not as he sees them. However, some members of the Council consider the article might have canvassed in greater detail the views of the opponents of the use of 1080.

In any event a newspaper and its journalists are entitled to the same freedom of expression and opinion as are its readers; and disagreement with that expression, which in this case appears to be the basic problem, cannot by itself sustain a complaint that journalistic ethics have been breached.

The complaint is not upheld.