REG MOORE AGAINST WAINUIOMATA NEWSIntroduction:
Reg Moore, a member of the Wainuiomata Community Board, has laid a complaint against the Wainuiomata News about a Letter to the Editor published on 4 May 2006. The complaint is not upheld.
The letter, under the heading “Sometimes, less is Moore,” was published two weeks after a Community Board meeting at which the letter writer had presented a case for a change in the by-law governing the size of residential sections.
The published letter is not specific about which by-law the letter-writer wanted changed. However, he accused Mr Moore of not listening, and “shooting down” his proposal.
The letter then addressed Mr Moore directly, using the second person “you” and “your” and ended with the suggestion that “it is retirement time” and time to give “new and younger residents the opportunity to change Wainuiomata ….”
In his complaint, Mr Moore stated that not only did the newspaper make no attempt to contact him about the points raised in the letter, but that it did not make available to him a copy of the letter for his comment before publication. He had received a copy from the Hutt City Council. Mr Moore had emailed a response to the editor on 24 April.
Mr Moore concluded his complaint by expressing his belief that unfounded personal attacks based solely on age should not be published in newspapers.
The Newspaper’s Response
In his first response to the complaint, the editor of the newspaper, who was not editor at the time of the complaint, stated that a first e-mail sent by Mr Moore did not arrive as the address used was an old one.
When contact was eventually made with the complainant, he was asked to e-mail his response to a new e-mail address. The Press Council notes that a second e-mail was also sent to the old address, but apparently was received.
When Mr Moore then asked for a written reply, he was told that this would not be done, but that the newspaper was happy to print his initial response.
Mr Moore did not re-email his response.
The newspaper would still welcome Mr Moore’s response, and print it.
In his final comment, the editor stated that the newspaper has a policy to seek response from public bodies when complaints are made about elected representatives (in this case the Hutt City Council). But a letter such as the one published, challenging the length of time elected representatives should serve in public office, is part of the public and political role in which Mr Moore has chosen to be involved for a long time.
Newspapers have a particular duty to encourage debate on issues of interest and importance to their communities. One site for such debate is in the Letters to the Editor. The Press Council has upheld the right of editors to publish, or not to publish, such letters.
The length of time a local body representative has been on a board or council, or even age, are topics for public debate. However, the Press Council also has maintained that Letters to the Editor should not become a forum for personal attacks.
The Wainuiomata News, albeit under an earlier editor, has previously been advised by the Press Council that ad hominem attacks on other readers are not tolerated in many newspapers. (Case 877, May 2002). Again, we recommend this approach to the current editor.
The Press Council is of the view that the headline over the published letter, while obviously intended to be a pun, was – under the circumstances – in questionable taste.
Although the Press Council does not uphold the complaint, it thinks that the newspaper should reconsider aspects of its handling of Letters to the Editor, and the standards required of contributors. The Press Council supports the view expressed in Case 877 that Letters to the Editor should focus on issues and not engage in personal attacks and that correspondents not be allowed to use the second person to attack people directly. Letters to the Editor are just that – they are not letters to somebody else. The most compelling letters are those that can stand alone and make their impact through the force and freshness of the writer’s ideas.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Beck, Ruth Buddicom, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Alan Samson, Lynn Scott and Terry Snow.