LINDSAY ROBINSON AGAINST SUNDAY STAR-TIMES

Case Number: 2293

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2012

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Sunday-Star Times

Ruling Categories: False Accusation
Accuracy
Defamation/Damaging To Reputation
Unfair Coverage


The Press Council has not upheld a complaint against the Sunday Star-Times by Lindsay Robinson, DFC.

Background
The Sunday Star-Times published an opinion piece on July 1, 2012 which commented on the recent recognition by the Queen, at the unveiling of a monument to Bomber Command in London, of the surviving New Zealand members of Bomber Command. The article included a wider discussion of the effects of mass bombing on the conduct of various military conflicts.

While recognising the need to honour the New Zealanders who took part in and/or died in the raids that Bomber Command staged in Germany, the article argued that the real reason for the raids was 'to smash the cities, destroy German morale and finish the war'. The journalist, Anthony Hubbard, paid tribute to the valour of the aircrews, nearly half of whom had died in action, but quoted an historian, Antony Beevor, who claimed in a recently published book that the raids were 'an utter failure'. The article cited Beevor's claim that purely military targets were not picked, but that the head of Bomber Command had wanted to 'devastate the cities and kill a lot of Germans'.

Mr Robinson complained initially to the Press Council; the complaint was forwarded to the paper's editor.

A subsequent letter was received from Mr Robinson a month later stating that the newspaper had 'conceded nothing' and requesting the Council continue with his complaint against the paper. He claimed that the article was factually incorrect; insulting to both the dead and the survivors; denied any credit to Bomber Command for the war's ultimate victory; and claimed that civilians were the main target.

Editor David Kemeys replied to Mr Robinson, thanking him for his wartime service; recognising that events can be considered differently 'at great remove' without understanding of how things were at the time; and indicating that he holds immense personal admiration for those who put their lives on the line.

Notwithstanding these sentiments, Mr Kemeys indicated that Anthony Hubbard was reporting an opinion, formed after his interviews with Antony Beevor. This opinion - and that of Beevor - may not be correct, but are their opinions, which they have the right to express. He indicated that there had been letters to the paper both supporting and criticising Bomber Command and Beevor, and that he would welcome a letter to the editor from Mr Robinson. He concluded, 'It is the least we can offer, especially to a man who was there, and who can provide a direct insight.'

Mr Robinson subsequently sent additional material, including a photo that showed where bombs were actually dropped on specific targets. In his final communication to the Council he stated that he is still in touch with his crew in the U.K. who were 'astounded' by the article and awaited the Council's verdict eagerly.

Mr Kemeys' final response showed his considerable sympathy for the feelings of Mr Robinson. He recognised that freedoms had been preserved by men such as Mr Robinson, and that their action makes it possible for others to criticise. Nevertheless, it is an opinion piece, and represents Hubbard's opinion formed after interviews with Mr Beevor. Hence, it was published, as are other views, many of which are unpopular.

Discussion
It is evident in this complaint that Mr Robinson was profoundly upset by the article, which puts forward an historical perspective that is at variance with Mr Robinson's experience and perceptions. That is unfortunate.

It is also evident that the editor has a very genuine sympathy for Mr Robinson's complaint; indeed he appears to agree with what Mr Robinson said about history being viewed differently by those who were involved in the situation. However, he could not agree that the article should not have been published. It is an opinion piece, however controversial. He warmly encouraged Mr Robinson to write a letter putting his own perspectives forward, but this offer was not accepted.

Accordingly, with no principles of the Council having been breached, the complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.