ROB RITCHIE AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 724

Council Meeting: February 1999

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

The New Zealand Press Council has rejected a complaint against the foreign affairs coverage of the New Zealand Herald.

The complaint, by Mr Rob Ritchie of Taupo, originated from the issue of October 2 1998. On the front page of the World section the paper carried a pointer consisting of a picture of Saddam Hussein and the words, “Iraq may have parts, but not a whole bomb - B3,” but on page B3 there was no such story. There was, however, an article about the crash of an Israeli plane carrying chemicals which could have been used to make nerve gas.

Mr Ritchie objected that this represented dishonest racist propaganda which he suggested was done at the behest of the paper’s foreign owners.

The deputy editor of the New Zealand Herald acknowledged that the paper had slipped up by failing to remove the pointer to the Iraqi story when the article itself was dropped at a late stage. But he rejected the accusation of racism and expressed some puzzlement as to exactly what Mr Ritchie was objecting to.

In taking the matter to the Press Council Mr Ritchie later expanded his complaint to cover wider aspects of the paper’s foreign affairs coverage. In support he provided several other clippings from the Herald, mostly relating to the trial of former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, which he also considered to be propaganda designed to foment racist hatred. Mr Ritchie contrasted the Herald’s reports with material appearing in other newspapers, including some in Southeast Asia, on the same subject.

The Council disagreed. After studying the articles in question the Council decided they consisted of perfectly reasonable material provided by reputable overseas agencies. The Council could discern not the slightest hint of racism.

The paper had certainly made a technical error in carrying a pointer to a story which did not appear but that was scarcely a gross deficiency. The complaint was not upheld.