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The case of the Otago Daily Times to the New Zealand Press Council.



From
THE EDITOR,
OTAGO DAILY TIMES

PO BOX 181,
DUNEDIN, N.Z.
TELEPHONE: (03) 477-4760
FAX: (03) 474-7422



25 May 1998

Mr G W Jenkins
Secretary
New Zealand Press Council
P O Box 10-879
The Terrace
WELLINGTON


Dear Mr Jenkins

Thank you for your letter of May 18 and enclosed correspondence regarding a complaint laid with the council against this newspaper by Mr J M Stevenson, of McCurdy St, Dunedin. I am sorry Mr Stevenson did not avail himself of either my offer of a letter to the Editor or your suggestion of the same, but that was his choice.

Mr Stevenson's initial complaint of April 25 was against an Opinion page article in this newspaper written by one of the senior parliamentary staff of the New Zealand Herald and supplied to the Otago Daily Times under a contractual arrangement for publication under the standing heading, "The Week in Politics". The page is clearly labelled "Opinion"; and the article clearly the opinion of the named writer. It does not purport to be the definitive word on the topic. For Mr Stevenson to claim that because not every possible view in the world, including his, was canvassed in the article it was therefore biased and "falls into the area of propaganda" is extreme and unreasonable, I submit. Furthermore, as he himself states, this is a free society, and I, as a newspaper editor, have the right to publish what I like.

However, I accept that right brings with it responsibilities. The Otago Daily Times strives conscientiously to present alternative views on important topics. Last year, I increased the space devoted to Letters to the Editor and created a second Opinion Page, on which we daily present alternative viewpoints from columnists, commentators, authoritative readers and staff. Numerous compliments on the diversity and depth of opinions expressed on these pages have come from readers from all sides of the social and intellectual spectrums. These pages were, and are, open to Mr Stevenson at any time, and were offered to him. Naturally, as Editor, I reserve the right of final judgement, as I do with any material submitted for consideration of publication.

Mr Stevenson claims in his press release of April 21, "Work for the dole may be illegal" (which neither I nor my staff can recall sighting), that the proposed work-for-the-dole scheme "may" breach international and New Zealand law. Had I, in fact, considered the press release as a possible source for published comment, that mere suggestion of possible illegality, rather than definite statement, might well have led me to reject it. The claim was an opinion from an agency barely known to this newspaper or its readers, one with no known track record of authority or credence. It may well have such a record: my staff and I have no knowledge of that. Mr Stevenson's statement (April 25 letter, page 2, para 3) that the work of the Centre was covered in an article in this newspaper on February 19, 1997 is not quite correct. The article gave space to Mr Stevenson's view on an earlier proposal of the work-for-the-dole scheme. The work of his Centre was not included.

I am still prepared to consider for publication any letter to the Editor Mr Stevenson cares to write. If I can be of any further help in your consideration of his complaint to the council, please contact me again.

Yours faithfully




R L CHARTERIS
EDITOR






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