MARCUS WILKINS AGAINST NEW ZEALAND KIWIFRUIT JOURNAL

Case Number: 2196

Council Meeting: JULY 2011

Verdict: Upheld with Dissent

Publication: NZ Kiwifruit Journal

Ruling Categories: Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Unfair Coverage

The New Zealand Press Council has upheld, by a majority of 5:4, a complaint against the New Zealand Kiwifruit Journal from Marcus Wilkins who wrote to the Journal on May 13 last year, commenting on an article in the March edition that had set out the intellectual property rights of plant breeders.



Describing himself as the holder of possibly the world's first kiwifruit variety right, Mr Wilkins said the article had failed to mention that the rights of kiwifruit breeders in New Zealand have been removed by the Kiwifruit Export Regulations 1999.



He believed the regulations applied only to Hayward Kiwifruit, the first commercial variety, and that growers who develop a new variety should be able to export its fruit independently.



His letter was referred to Zespri for a response, which was supplied by the company's deputy chairman, Peter McBride.



Mr McBride's response was published ahead of Mr Wilkins' letter, the response running over two pages of the July edition with Mr Wilkins' letter printed in facsimile form on the page following it.



Mr Wilkins complained that his letter was treated unprofessionally in both its placement and presentation, that his full address was published without his consent, and that he was not warned a response would come from Zespri rather than the author of the article.



He asked that the next edition of the Journal contain an apology for publishing his address and signature and for the greater prominence given to Zespri's reply. He also asked for a policy on the treatment of letters to the editor to published.



The edition of September, 2010 contained an account of Mr Wilkins' complaint, along with an apology to him, and set out a policy for the treatment of letters to the editor which it undertook to publish on page three of future issues.



Mr Wilkins was not satisfied and complained to the Press Council.



The Council has found the treatment of Mr Wilkins' letter unfair and unreasonable. It says it is normal and natural for replies to letters, even long replies, to follow them.



While it is not unusual for magazines to print a letter in raw facsimile form for added effect, in this case the Council finds it gave readers the clear impression Mr Wilkins' letter was not considered worthy of the same editorial attention and design that Zespri's reply received.



The facsimile presentation also had the unfortunate, and no doubt unintended, consequence of publishing the complainant's full address and signature.



Though the Kiwifruit Journal apologised to Mr Wilkins for publishing his address and for the treatment of his letter, the Press Council has upheld his complaint, finding it grossly unfair to publish a well-laid-out response which covered far more ground than Mr Wilkins' letter had warranted, and publish it ahead of Mr Wilkins’ letter.



In the view of the majority of the Council an apology was the least that could be expected but its lack of heading and placement well back in the Journal was not sufficient.



The view of the minority was that the apology was adequate to remedy the deficiencies in the manner of publication of the letter and response.



Those members upholding the complaint were Clive Lind, Stephen Stewart, Sandy Gill, Kate Coughlan and Pip Bruce Ferguson



Those members not upholding the complaint were Barry Paterson, John Roughan, Keith Lees and Chris Darlow.