JOHN COX AGANIST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2244

Council Meeting: MAY 2012

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Discrimination
Balance, Lack Of
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

John Cox complains against the New Zealand Herald for a Comment piece about the value of the British royal family.
The complaint is not upheld.

Complaint
Mr Cox argues the article is stridently hostile, immoderate and employs insulting terms misrepresenting facts and is, therefore, in breach of the following Press Council Principles:
1. Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
4. Comment and Fact
6. Discrimination and Diversity
The article, by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown a columnist for The Independent newspaper in Britian and reproduced in the New Zealand Herald, questions the value of the British monarchy and suggests an election for head of state might establish the capabilities of candidates more accurately than the current credential of a royal birth.
She canvasses a number of aspects of the monarchical system and quotes specific examples of recent royal activities which do not sit within the expected parameters of regal behaviour. She observes that Diamond Jubilee Britain feels, to her, like North Korea-lite in its national sycophancy and mandatory adulation. She questions whether the Queen is a feminist icon and suggests she passes out medals to her children even when poorly behaved. She states that royalty today dominates “celeb culture” and questions its irresistible nature even to the smartest of Britons.
Mr Cox does not believe that the article can be protected as an opinion piece and says it is one of the worst attacks on the royal family published for some time. He believes it is defamatory and would have contravened sedition laws were they still on the statute books.
He finds it unthinkable the newspaper would publish such an attack on anyone other than the royal family and claims that even dictators and murderers have been getting fairer press than the monarchy.

The Newspaper’s Response
The New Zealand Herald responds that the article is clearly marked as an opinion piece and is based on the writer’s observations of recent events. It defends the article as a well-written, forthright commentary leaving the reader in no doubt as to the writer’s position. Additionally, the newspaper invokes the principle of free speech and the right of newspaper columnists to express their opinions freely and provocatively.
The complainant was invited to submit his views either as a letter to the editor or a comment piece for consideration for publication.

Discussion and Conclusion
This article is clearly marked ‘COMMENT’ and attracts the protection afforded to columnists to express without fear their opinions whether they be strong, abrasive or challenging. It is not surprising that Ms Alibhai-Brown’s irreverent assessment of the value of the royal family and the Commonwealth provokes a strong response in some readers. However, the Press Council does uphold the right of a columnist to express opinion without fear. Principles state: A clear distinction should be drawn between factual information and comment or opinion. An article that is essentially comment or opinion should be clearly presented as such. This was the case here.

As an opinion piece we find nothing that is in breach of the Council’s principles and the complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.