Case Number: 572

Council Meeting: APRIL 1995

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Mr Gul Zaman of the South Auckland Muslim Association has had his complaint against the New Zealand Herald declined by the New Zealand Press Council.

His grievance was against the newspaper using a heading "Fanatic Islam" over a letter it published from Mike Nathan, president of the Zionist Federation. Mr Zaman said Islam is a religion which literally means "peace" and thus calling Islam "fanatic" was highly derogatory to the followers on this religion.

Mr Zaman's case was that while there are some Muslims who are a disgrace to Islam, it was not possible to assume that Islam itself was a fanatic religion.

The deputy editor of the Herald said in a letter to Mr Zaman that the heading was written by staff as a summary of the Nathan letter and like all such labels, reflected the tone of the letter writer's contribution and was in no way the view of the New Zealand Herald or its editor.

The Council said Mr Zaman seemed to read into the heading, connotations that implied prejudice on behalf of the Herald even though the letter came from the president of the Zionist Federation.

In compiling column such as those where readers to a newspaper can give their opinions, it must be expected that a newspaper's staff will seek to put into a heading a concise summary of the context of the letter. It would be unfair to suggest that such headings are intended to convey expressions of editorial opinion, and it would undermine the principle of freedom of expression in the New Zealand press if there were any effort to suggest otherwise.

The Press Council would deplore any implication of religious intolerance, but cannot find any ground for criticism in the New Zealand Herald in this case.

An alternative policy would be for a newspaper to reject letters to the editor on issues or religious or other controversial connotations, and this would effectively neuter the freedom of expression which is a keystone of New Zealand democracy