The case of the Otago Daily Times to the New Zealand Press Council.
OTAGO DAILY TIMES
PO BOX 181,
TELEPHONE: (03) 477-4760
FAX: (03) 474-7422
25 May 1998
Mr G W Jenkins
New Zealand Press Council
P O Box 10-879
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
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.
R L CHARTERIS