Mr R. Lavën, a Tauranga lawyer, laid a complaint with the Press Council about an article published in the in the opinion section of the Bay of Plenty Times on 16 October 2007. He complained that the article breached the Press Council’s principles on accuracy, fairness and balance.

The complaint is not upheld.

The Complaint
The article complained about was in two parts. The second part (on which the complaint is based) retold an American anti-lawyer joke. The columnist then went on to criticize an anonymous published article in the Canterbury student magazine “Canta” which rated young film stars for their sexual attractiveness. It stated that some heterosexual men “would go to prison in order to sleep with them” (implying that they were underage – although in the case of those named this was not the case). The final sentence of the article was a side-swipe that tied in the columnist’s criticism of a poor article which condoned sexual abuse to his earlier reference to lawyers.

Mr Lavën complains that the second part of the article in general, and the last sentence in particular, was inaccurate, unfair and unbalanced. Further, that cheap shots about lawyers were made without substantiation or reason under the guise of opinion. He does not accept that regurgitated jokes are an expression of opinion. Also he does not accept that linking lawyers to child abuse in order to take cheap shots is ethically justifiable.

In a further elaboration of his complaint, Mr Lavën again states that at the heart of his complaint are issues of accuracy, fairness, taste and balance.

The Response
The editor responded strongly, both in his initial response to the complainant, and then in his responses to the Press Council. He made it clear that this column is purely and simply the columnist’s opinion on issues of the day. He often uses humour and satire to make his points. If the complainant does not like the column, he does not need to read it.

The complaint is not upheld. On many occasions the Press Council has upheld the right of an editor to publish opinion pieces, some of which may offend some people simply because they do not agree with the opinions expressed or the way in which they are expressed. Newspapers publish such pieces in order to entertain, or to engage the public in discussion and debate. In this case, the column was clearly placed in the opinion section of the paper. The complaint is a reflection of the controversy that such pieces sometimes generate.

Council members considering the complaint were Barry Paterson, Aroha Beck, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, John Gardner, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Denis McLean, Alan Samson and Lynn Scott.


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