Case Number: 655

Council Meeting: JUNE 1997

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

The New Zealand Press Council has rejected a complaint about an article in the New Zealand Herald on the classification of the “Vegas girl” sign in Auckland’s Karangahape Road.

Anti-pornography campaigner Philip Smits complained to the Council that the Herald article on 30 January had been inaccurate, biased and unbalanced. The article, headlined “Counting the cost of calling in the censor,” had recounted the process used to classify the sign after Mr Smits had successfully complained to the Chief Censor about the sign. The Chief Censor had banned the Vegas girl sign, but that decision was then overturned by the Film and Literature Board of Review.

The article, which was written as a by-lined feature piece, went through the process in detail. Much of it was a report on the proceedings of the Board of Review hearing into the classification held in December.

Mr Smits complained the article was inaccurate and biased, partly because it sought no comment from him even though he had made the original complaint to the Chief Censor. But Mr Smits himself refused to appear before the board when it declined his request to hear his evidence in private. That was reported by the Herald.

In response to Mr Smits’ complaint, the Herald said it believed the story was both accurate and balanced. What was clear from Mr Smits’ complaint was that he did not agree with the way in which the Film and Literature Board of Review dealt with the case. Mush of his criticism of the article related in fact to his disquiet about the process itself.

The Press Council ruled the examples of inaccuracy he raised were more differences of interpretation. He specifically complained that the article was unfair because it appeared to blame him for what the article described as a “ludicrous” exercise.

The Press Council took the view the article’s description of the process as ludicrous was not attributing any blame to Mr Smits, but was the reporter’s assessment of the process of classification now being used since changes had been made to the censorship laws.

The complaint was not upheld.