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Complaint to the New Zealand Press Council.




5 May 1998


The Secretary
New Zealand Press Council
P O Box 1066
WELLINGTON



Dear Sir, Madam or Ms,

In accordance with the Complaints Procedure of the Council, a complaint in respect of the Otago Daily Times is hereby referred to you for further consideration.

On the 25 April 1998, in accordance with the appropriate procedure, the Centre wrote to the Editor of the Otago Daily Times, Mr R Charteris, complaining of the withholding of information involving a specific article and drawing his attention to the fact that the information concerned had not been made public in any other stories on the subject during a period of high media and public interest.

The information related to the apparent breach of both international and domestic law by the New Zealand Government in respect of its intention to introduce a Community Wage.

The Centre notes with regret that in his reply Mr Charteris saw fit to not repudiate any of the arguments of the Centre in respect of the role of the press in a free society, but concentrated instead on the Centre's view of propaganda. It appears therefore that Mr Charteris was not relying on reason to uphold his decision on non-publication, but on his power as a newspaper editor.

It is on the use of this same power that the complaint was laid in the first place.

The eighth edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines propaganda as:

" . . . 1 a an organised programme of publicity, selected information etc., used to propagate a doctrine, practice, etc."

In view of this definition the Centre would submit that by not including the information in any of several pieces during the period of interest of the story, the withholding of the information was organised. To withhold is to select. The Centre would also submit that given the populist nature of the Otago Daily Times, the withholding of the information by the newspaper was supporting the by now widely held view in this country that the unemployed are

" . . . bludgers that should have to work."

With regard to the view of the Centre that the Otago Daily Times is populist in nature, it is noted that sport and human interest stories of apparently little or no intellectual value regularly adorn its front page. The daily photograph and opinion of a citizen under the title "I Love Dunedin" is a further indication of an editorial policy that does little to contribute to the enlightened development of that newspaper's readers. It is also instructive to compare the newspaper with other metropolitan dailies when they are previewed by Morning Report every weekday morning. Almost without exception, the other dailies lead with hard news stories of national relevance while the Otago Daily Times leads with local human interest or parochial pieces.

The Centre also notes that it appears to be the policy of the Otago Daily Times to itself support forcing the unemployed to work against their will.

In an editorial of 24 April, three days after receiving the press releases from the Centre, the newspaper said;

" Providing the work chosen for them is appropriate, useful, productive and offers the prospect of on-the-job learning, then the scheme will prove worthwhile in maintaining the motivation, dignity and skills of those without paid employment."

The writer then goes on to say that if those criteria are not met, then the scheme may not be worthwhile.

These are criteria that deliberately ignore both the letter and the spirit of three major pieces of international law that are required to be upheld in the domestic law of this country. The ethical implications of the exploitation of the unemployed are also ignored.

It may well be the case of course that Mr Charteris withheld the information on the basis that, in his opinion, it was not newsworthy.

The Centre would find such a claim disturbing.

Unlike, for example, Britain, the Otago Daily Times has no competition in its circulation area from either a local or national daily. For the majority of the people in its circulation area the Otago Daily Times is the only newspaper, so cannot, in the view of the Centre, rely as a defence on the right of a newspaper to adopt whatever style it sees fit; be it, for example, tabloid or broadsheet.

The Centre would also find disturbing the view by a newspaper editor that the matter under discussion is not inherently newsworthy.

The reliance of the people on an objective, quality, informed print media in New Zealand today, is all the more important given the lack of intelligent, principled news reporting by the electronic media.

As you may be aware the individual's ownership of his own labour is a fundamental human right which has been upheld in this country and internationally for the last sixty years. This basic human right has been written into international law by means of the conventions of the International Labour Organisation and any country which ratifies those conventions is required to uphold those same provisions in its domestic law.

The three major conventions which affect this area are; C29 Forced Labour Convention, 1930, C44 Unemployment Provision Convention, 1934 and C105 Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957. Conventions C29 and C44 were ratified by New Zealand on 29 March 1938 and C105 on 14 June 1968. None of these conventions have been denounced ie, withdrawn from, by New Zealand. They are therefore required to constitute New Zealand domestic law as well as international law and in the case of the latter may therefore be challenged in the International Court of Justice. For verification of these points on applicability and law, please see the enclosed printout of ILO conventions ratified by New Zealand and the descriptions section of the ILO Conventions printout.

As you will see from the enclosed copies of the conventions, the New Zealand government appears to already be in breach of a great many of the provisions of these treaties by requiring the unemployed to work against their will on compulsory work schemes such as Task Force Green.

The most important provision of C29 is Article Two which defines forced or compulsory labour as:

" . . . all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily."

You may also care to consider the provisions of Article Four of C29 which specifically prohibit the use of forced or compulsory labour;

" . . . for the benefit of private individuals, companies or associations."

The Centre would like to draw your attention to Article Nine of C44, which alone makes provision for the unemployed to be forced to work against their will and even then it must be:

" . . . on relief works organised by a public authority."

(The italics are those of the Centre.)

As a further example of the conditions under which human beings cannot be forced to work for the community, your attention is drawn to C29 Article Nine (a) (b) and (c), which set out further conditions for the use of forced or compulsory labour.

The Centre would also like to draw to your attention C105 Article 1 (a) and (b) which outlaw the use of forced labour for education and economic development respectively. To attempt to engender a work ethic for example, is education.

It is currently the case in this country that the Criminal Justice Act is written to require the consent of a convicted criminal before such a person can be sentenced to community service. According to a 1993 publication of the New Zealand Department of Labour, International Labour Conventions Ratified by New Zealand, this was done to reflect the provisions of C29. Despite the fact that the exemptions to Article Two provide for such a sentence, it is not considered appropriate to use forced labour as a punishment in this country. How can a newspaper editor claim that information that points out that the unemployed will be treated worse than convicted criminals is not newsworthy?

When the so called "work for the dole" legislation is written into law, the Centre intends to seek leave from the ILO to lodge a formal complaint against the New Zealand government. The Centre understands that at least one labour organisation in this country is also considering requesting the ILO to investigate the New Zealand government.

The Centre also has plans to challenge the legality of such schemes as Task Force Green, Community Task Force and the Community Wage in the New Zealand courts.

Leaving aside the matter of the letter of the law, you may wish to consider the ethical implications of a newspaper withholding information regarding the apparent breaching of the spirit of such international views on human rights.

In another area that has been given prominence by the media, it is a matter of record that the comparisons with the Wisconsin and New York schemes in the United States are misleading because that country is not a signatory to either C29 or C44. The United States ratified only C105 which requires that country to uphold in its domestic law only prohibitions against forced labour for the purposes of education, political punishment and economic development etc.

Do the people of Dunedin not have a right to know that those examples are confusing them? New Zealand is bound by international law; the United States is not.

It appears from Mr Charteris' reply that his view is a commonly held one that the right of press freedom is absolute. The Centre would suggest that only in a totalitarian state would those in positions of power in the media be free to withhold information from the people as they saw fit. It is suggested that the very fact that a given media organ is functioning in a free society carries with it the obligation to act in the interests of truth and justice.

To act otherwise would be to hold the view that freedom of the right to know applies only to the media and not to the people.

That is by definition an abuse of press power and a world view that is anti-democratic.

The Centre would also submit that the very existence of the New Zealand Press Council gives credence to its view that the right to press freedom, in the sense of the right to publish only what the editor sees fit, is not absolute in a free, democratic society.

The Centre considers it dangerous to the democratic process that information relating to the rights of the unemployed under international law is being deliberately withheld from them. There are already several thousand unemployed people being forced to work against their will and that number is to be swollen to the full total of the unemployed; some 150,000. The Coalition Government has also announced plans to investigate adding to that number those on Domestic Purpose, and Sickness benefits.

Altogether, according to media reports, some 350,000 people, some 9% of the country's population, will be subjected to a work regime that, in the case of the Chilean example, the Committee of Experts of the International Labour Organisation found to be forced labour. This was because it breached Article Two of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930.

Given the apparent breach of major human rights conventions by the current New Zealand government, how can those affected defend themselves against such abuses of their human rights, if the Otago Daily Times deliberately withholds from them the means of their right of redress?

Would the unemployed readily agree that the system is fair if they were aware of all the facts?

Much is currently being made of the fact that the unemployed will be able to opt out of the Community Wage scheme by not signing the contract that will enable them to receive a benefit in return for their work.

In the case of Chile the Committee of Experts rejected this apparent contract on the grounds that registering for an unemployment benefit was an;

" . . . essential condition for entitlement to the benefit . . ."

The Committee of Experts went on in their decision to point out that a "penalty" in terms of Article Two of C29 ;

" . . . need not be in the form on penal sanctions but may take the form of a loss of rights or privileges."

This decision may be found on page 5 of 7 of the fax from the ILO.

There is much to this matter that the people have a right to know.

In general it is the view of the Centre that by consciously withholding from the unemployed people of its circulation area the information necessary to defend themselves from the abuse of their human rights, the editor of the Otago Daily Times, Mr R Charteris is limiting, if not denying, their right to humanistic and possibly legal justice in their own society. Furthermore, it is the view of the Centre that by withholding this information Mr Charteris is denying to all the citizens of the circulation area of the Otago Daily Times the right to know and to understand, the forces that may be at work in their own country and which they need to know in order to understand the values of a civilised society.

It is therefore the submission of the Centre that freedom of the press to be biased does not extend to total control over the information to which the citizens of a free democratic society are entitled as of right.

For your information please find enclosed copies of relevant documentation.


Your faithfully,



J M STEVENSON (Mr)

DIRECTOR




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