PCOANZ AGAINST THE DOMINION

Case Number: 661

Council Meeting: JULY 1997

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion

A complaint against The Dominion by the national secretary of the Peace Council of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCOANZ) has not been upheld by the New Zealand Press Council.

John Urlich wrote a letter on the subject of General Colin Powell and US military alliances and submitted it to the newspaper on 3 April, but it was not used. Mr Urlich followed it up with another letter on an associated topic (Sister Driscoll’s visit to New Zealand) a few days later. The Powell letter was more than 700 words long.

Three weeks later he complained by way of a fax to the editor about the non-publication of both his letters. He said the editor had a duty to present the public with a balance of views from the wider community and to permit public debate.

The editor of the newspaper Richard Long acknowledged the fax, telling Mr Urlich that his letter of 700 plus words was too long for publication as The Dominion gave preference to letters under 250 words in length. He also pointed out the associate editor who handled letters to the editor, did not feel like attempting to abridge the submission, and that the paper had already published a range of views on Sister Driscoll’s visit. He suggested if Mr Urlich reduced his letter to about 200 words and resubmitted it, the letter could be considered for publication.

John Urlich then wrote to the Press Council with the background to his complaint. He reiterated his opinion that the criteria which an editor should use for publishing information was to represent diverse viewpoints. He also advised he was withdrawing his complaint about the non-publication of his letter on Sister Driscoll’s visit.

The secretary of the Press Council suggested to Mr Urlich, as had the editor, that he should consider abridging his letter and re-submitting it, with an offer to reconsider his complaint if there had been no publication. Mr Urlich responded emphasising the issue, as he saw it, was one of freedom of the press which was effectively being denied.

Mr Urlich had the opportunity to re-submit an abridged version of his Powell letter but he did not accept. By any standards his letter was long and rambling. An editor has wide discretion as to which letters are published and in this instance the editor has acted within his powers. The complaint is not upheld.