Case Number: 912

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2003

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Taste Lack of

A Manurewa man, Maurice Hendry, has complained to the New Zealand Press Council about a Letter to the Editor published in The New Zealand Herald last September.

The short letter appeared under the heading Brevities – a column that allows for succinct comments on a range of topics and that does not publish the letter-writer’s full name. It is usually published over only their initials, but does include the suburb or city in which they live.

The letter that so upset Mr Hendry was submitted by someone whose initials were J C, and who lived in Sydney, Australia. It asked what Adolf Hitler had done to suffer the insult of being compared by a German cabinet minister to US president George W Bush. It is a fact that such a statement by a German cabinet minister had been made.

Mr Hendry complained to the Herald a month later, calling the letter an insult and an obscenity. He suggested someone in the newspaper’s own office had written the letter, given what he perceived as the Herald’s anti-American bias. He also said the newspaper should have been burned in the streets for so flagrantly abusing the principle of freedom of speech.

The letter was not published. On November 19, he complained to the Press Council.

Deputy editor David Hastings told the Council in the paper’s defence that the Hendry letter was not responded to because it was highly abusive. Further, he said, the letter from J C, in Sydney, had been pithy hyperbole not intended to be taken literally and written in response to an earlier reader.

Mr Hendry was not appeased and he sought censure of the Herald for its publication of the letter and repeated his belief that someone on the paper’s staff had fabricated it. This allegation was firmly rejected by Mr Hastings.

Mr Hendry also made available to the Council’s secretary a personal letter he had written to Mr Hastings in early January that he believed was extraneous to his Press Council correspondence. The Council disagreed – it said it preferred to see a full set of correspondence between the complainant and the newspaper concerned.

The Council declined to uphold Mr Hendry’s complaint. The Council said there was nothing exceptional about this case that altered its long-held view that Letters to the Editor were published in any publication as the prerogative of its editor.

While newspaper executives had to expect to deal with readers and letter writers who disagreed in strong terms with them or their paper’s policy, the Council said believed that Mr Hendry had used language that was not calculated to help Mr Hastings or his colleagues accept his side of the argument.