MESSRS COX AND WATSON AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 642

Council Meeting: MARCH 1997

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Two Aucklanders, Messrs Noel Cox and Donald Watson who complained to the New Zealand Press Council about a column in the New Zealand Herald have had their separate complaints disallowed.

The column, written by Kate Belgrave and published on 21 January, was headed “Get Rid of England and Stand Alone.” It questioned New Zealand’s commitment, or otherwise, to become a republic. It rehearsed arguments in favour of republicanism, and was critical of the Royal family’s moral leadership.

Mr Cox, vice-chairman of the Monarchist League of New Zealand, said the article was in poor taste and went beyond the proper bounds of what should be published. It showed lack of balance, was biased and was riddled with distortions, false accusations and misrepresentation. The attacks in the column, he said, went beyond honest opinion.

Mr Watson said the article was scurrilous. racist and inflammatory. It was grossly discourteous to people in high places, there was no sympathy for the Queen’s predicament, it was likely to provoke a breach of the peace, and was written in an unacceptably low level of the English language.

Responding to Mr Watson, Herald associate editor Don Milne said the article was an expression of opinion by a regular columnist whose views were clearly her own. That Messrs Cox and Watson disagreed with them, as had some other readers, did not mean they weren’t entitled to expression.

He said that much of the value of a free press lay in the fact that it allowed the free expression of widely varying views and that to attempt to suppress those views, or to denigrate in personal terms those who held them, was the antithesis of freedom New Zealand hoped to be able to enjoy.

Similar views were expressed by Herald editor Gavin Ellis to Mr Cox. It was not a case deserving of apology from the Herald or Ms Belgrave, he wrote. It was an honest opinion, even if one that did not enjoy universal support or editorial support from the Herald itself.



In dismissing both complaints, the Press Council said it found the column to have been a robust expression of opinion on a matter of public interest. It repeated a 1992 finding that it upheld the right to free expression in language that may arouse strong feelings in some readers.

It said this was supported by the New Zealand Bill of Rights (section 14, Freedom of Expression) which placed in statute the right of everyone to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information of any kind in any form.