Case Number: 956

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2003

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Bay Chronicle

Ruling Categories: Privacy
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
Balance, Lack Of
Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Taste Lack of

Ann Court lodged a complaint against the Bay Chronicle, a community newspaper in Kerikeri.

Her complaint lay with the Editor’s choice of two letters that were published and one of their headlines.

Ann Court was appointed Chairperson of the Kerikeri Paihia Community Board in October 2002. In June 2003 a ‘Memo to Ratepayers’ was printed in the Bay Chronicle in which Ann Court addressed the issue of the closure of the local Kerikeri Memorial Hall. She quoted part of the consulting engineer’s commissioned report on the hall’s safety requirements for life expectancies of 2 and 10 year periods as the ‘Simple answer’ for the Community Board urging the demolition of the hall.

It was this ‘Memo to Ratepayers’ that prompted the first of the anti-demolition letters to the editor that were complained about. In it the writer questioned the comments made by Ann Court and suggested that there could be an ulterior motive in the Community Board’s proposal to demolish the hall. Ann Court took this as referring to her personally and believed that the editor should not have published the comments.

The second letter, published some 3 months later in September was headed “Ann Court’s suggestion ‘ludicrous’”. A group of hall users had written to the editor in response to an August article quoting Ann Court, again concerning the loss of the community hall. In it she had suggested that ‘if event organisers fail to find suitable premises in the interim, they should plan smaller events’.

Ann Court claimed that both letters were intended to hurt her personally and that the editor had shown a lack of consideration by naming her in the headline covering the September letter to the editor.

The editor, Keri Molloy, replied that she regretted that Ann Court had been so deeply affected by the content of the letters to the editor. The issue of the Memorial Hall closure was complex and many community groups had been seriously inconvenienced when the hall was closed suddenly. Neither of the letters had questioned Ann Court’s personal integrity. In her position as chairperson of the Community Board public comment about her performance came with the job. Her views had been sought in the preparation of news items about the hall. The Editor had offered space on the letters page for Ann Court to make her statement.

The unexpected closure of the local hall had created considerable criticism in the district and generated a number of letters to the editor. The letters complained of were in direct response to reported comments made by Ann Court. A Community Newspaper’s function is to reflect the differing views of its local community. The Bay Chronicle states in a boxed paragraph at the bottom of the letters’ page that ‘Letters to the editor are considered the honest opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the newspaper in either content or heading’. The letters should be read in this context.

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint about either letter.