Case Number: 865

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2002

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Wanganui Chronicle

Ruling Categories: Headlines and Captions

A candidate for the Wanganui mayoralty at last year’s local body elections has complained to the New Zealand Press Council about a reference to him in the Wanganui Chronicle last October 6.

Mr Ian Little is upset that in a front-page teaser beneath the masthead, encouraging readers to delve further into the paper, there is a cartoon of him alongside the words “Spoiled for choice – P2.”

On page 2 of the paper is a by-lined article headed “Voters’ night-mayor?”, which is accompanied by eight cartoons of the candidates for the mayoralty drawn by former Wanganui cartoonist Jim Hubbard.
Each cartoon is typical of its genre, and is accompanied by brief captions that touch lightly on the individual’s best-known attributes. The drawings are quite benign.

Mr Little sought an explanation from the Chronicle as to why it used the sketch of him on page 1 to promote the article inside. Dissatisfied with the reply, he complained to the Press Council calling the drawing defamatory and slanderous. The phrase “Spoiled for choice” did not, he said, reappear in the article, which reinforced his case.

Chronicle editor John Maslin said the article’s flippant tone was clear from the headline. The paper’s chief sub-editor had chosen at random one of the eight cartoons to promote the story in the page 1 teaser boxes, and the accompanying phrase, “Spoiled for choice”, was a reasonable summary of voters’ position. The editor told the Press Council that no malice was intended and that the page 1 wording could not be taken as a slur on Mr Little personally.

The Press Council does agree. It said that voters had a right to expect that during an election campaign the cut and thrust of political debate, whether among candidates or in comments in the local paper, would be robust. Candidates had to expect that. The reference to Mr Little complained of, the Council said, was mild in tone.

The Council said it believed the reference to being spoiled for choice was a fair term to use in the context of voters facing a smorgasbord of eight candidates for the mayoralty. Most reasonable people would read it as referring merely to the breadth of choice on offer, not as a comment about one candidate in particular. Spoiled for choice usually means an excess or abundance of attractive choices.

The complaint is therefore not upheld.

Mr Little also asked the Council to reconsider its adjudication on an earlier complaint about the Chronicle made in late 2001. The Council’s decision on that matter is unchanged.