Case Number: 2878

Council Meeting: MARCH 2020

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication


On February 7, 2020 The Press and Stuff published an extensive article Paying tax on unfunded cancer medication outrageous, says Nelson patient. It recounted the experience of a Nelson man, Dr John Mitchell who, on recently paying $14,800 for two months cancer medication, noticed that the GST component was $1900. Dr Mitchell is lobbying government for a tax exemption on unfunded drugs.

Included in the article was a statement from a letter from Health Minister David Clark saying he had been advised by Inland Revenue officials that allowing an exemption on one kind of goods or service would lead to other requests. “Allowing exemptions would also likely lead to an increase in taxes elsewhere to recover the loss of revenue,” the letter said.

The article also noted a spokesperson for Revenue Minister Stuart Nash as saying “People will have differing views about what goods or services merit exemption from GST.Applying GST with minimal exemptions ensures the tax is as fair as possible, as it applies equally to everyone.”

It is these two statements that Michael Gousmett, a tax specialist, takes particular exception to. In a letter toThe Press on February 7 he says the author could not have studied tax history. He refers to his research which focuses on tax expenditures and he gives examples of tax exemptions. He notes that he will be writing to both ministers “given they have been poorly advised”.

He followed this up by forwarding a draft of an opinion piece The inhumanity of GST on self-funded cancer drugs, which he askedThe Press to publish. The Press responded that the offering was twice the length of usual opinion pieces and was “quite dense as far as detail is concerned.”If it could be reduced to 750 wordsThe Press would take a fresh look at it and make a call on whether to publish or not.

Dr Gousmett sent a 748-word revised piece on February 16, but the opinion editor was on leave.On February 25 he replied he would discuss the piece with his opinion colleagues to see if they could find a slot for it.

On March 3 Dr Gousmett complained to the Media Council about non-publication of his piece. Since there was still correspondence ongoing between him andThe Press, and the possibility of resolution, the Media Council declined to become involved.

On March 17 Dr Gousmett brought the complaint back to the Media Council noting “It is highly unlikely that my piece is going to be published at all, particularly given the Covid-19 issue”. The focus of his complaint appears to be not so much on the content of the article, but on the failure of The Press to publish what he had written.

The Media Council can understand Dr Gousmett’s frustration with this situation, since it did seem at some stage that the piece would be published, and he had revised his initial piece to conform withThe Press’ requirements.

However publication of opinion pieces is entirely at the discretion of the editor, and it does seem that competition for space was key in the decision-making here.Other factors at play are newsworthiness and likely reader interest in the topic. Dr Gousmett may well be correct in assuming that this matter has been subsumed by Covid-19.

The material particularly complained about may or may not be correct, but it is a direct quote from the letters concerned and presumably accurately quoted.We note that Dr Gousmett was taking that matter directly to the ministers concerned.


The Media Council acknowledges that publication of opinion pieces is at an editor’s discretion.

There are insufficient grounds to argue a breach of any Media Council principle and this complaint will not proceed.


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