ROSEMARY JOHNSON AGAINST THE WAIRARAPA TIMES AGE

A Featherston reader of the Wairarapa Times-Age, Rosemary Johnson was offended by a weekly column in the edition of 10 March. Subsequently she wrote to the editor complaining and then to the New Zealand Press Council.

The column, written by local columnist Rick Long was on the contraceptive pill and possible deleterious side effects. The central issue of the complaint was the column’s opening paragraph. “I had a friend who was a gynaecologist. I suggested to him once that his must be the ultimate job in the world, it you were a heterosexual male. Anyway he moved on and I bought his house. I toyed with the idea of leaving his sign on the gate and setting up my own consultancy, probably accepting only the youngest and prettiest clients. This only got to the thinking stage. Marion put paid to the idea. Wives can be such spoilsports at times.”

Ms Johnson complained to the Press Council about the content of the column, but particularly about the opening paragraph, and on the decision of the editor not to publish a letter from her on the topic.

Ms Johnson wrote a letter to the paper criticising the opening paragraph of the column and this was published on 18 March. She submitted a further letter dated March 20 criticising the column more explicitly for what she said were sexism and patriarchal attitudes. She suggested an apology was warranted from both Mr Long and the newspaper.

The editor declined to publish the second letter saying to do so would turn fair comment into “something of a vendetta.” He said he was reluctant to censor bylined opinion columns.

He said that in general he saw no problem with opinion writers expressing their prejudices so long as readers were allowed to challenge them - as Ms Johnson had.

In April, Ms Johnson received a letter from Mr Long saying he was sorry if his column offended her. He had run that particular column past his wife and daughter, who was a feminist. That had no bearing on the council's decision.

Council members believed that parts of the column were gratuitous and in poor taste, but it did not meet the council's threshold of being completely unacceptable. The council believed the column reflected adversely on the author more than anything else.

Ms Johnson was given the opportunity to publicly criticise the column on one occasion. It was not unfair of the newspaper to decline a second go.

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