Case Number: 1022

Council Meeting: JUNE 2005

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy

Michael Thomas complains that an edited transcript of a speech published by the New Zealand Herald on February 10 had wilfully misled the public by failing to report certain comments the Chief Justice made the previous day to the conference of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology.

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.

In a March 26 letter to the editor Mr Thomas said the edited transcript completely changed the impact of the address by omitting comments “deeply political in their content and observation”.

Mr Thomas did not identify the comments, which he said must be addressed publicly, and sought confirmation the Herald had the Chief Justice’s permission to publish her speech and that she had agreed to the editing.

On April 8 he wrote to the Press Council, saying he had received no response and lodging a complaint, citing article one of the statement of principles (accuracy, fairness and balance).

On April 12 the assistant editor John Roughan replied, apologising for the delay, which he thought had occurred because the Deputy Editor David Hastings was on leave. Mr Roughan said he had not seen the statements Mr Thomas had in mind and no longer had the full speech. A lot of space had been devoted to the speech, but it had to be kept within reasonably readable proportions, while covering the essential points. Permission to publish would not have been needed if, for example, the speech had been made at a conference open to the news media. The Chief Justice had not been asked, and nothing had been heard to suggest she was unhappy.

On April 17 Mr Thomas said by omitting 40 per cent of the speech the Herald misled and misinformed the public, and on May 5 he reiterated his concerns, saying Mr Roughan had refused to confirm he had permission to publish or edit the speech.

Mr Roughan had however, in his letter of April 12 explained how the speech was published, why it was edited, and that there had been no complaint from the Chief Justice.

Mr Thomas, however, did not disclose the nub of his complaint until a letter to the Press Council on May 16, when he said current criminal processes in New Zealand were not “a settled discourse and it is certainly the case in parts of America, Great Britain and in parts of the EU that once held views on ‘being nice’ to criminals may be counter-productive”.
Mr Thomas also said recently announced changes in Britain meant more attention was being given to “old fashioned conventions in regard to the treatment of male offenders”.
The Chief Justice was said to be entirely silent on these matters and remained unchallenged on her particular comments regarding offenders’ human rights, while the Herald, by design or default, had allowed her to “slip below the radar”.

If Mr Thomas is referring to the entire speech it is hard to see how the Herald could have omitted matters on which the Chief Justice is said to be silent. And, if he is referring to the edited version, it includes various references to the continuing debate about criminal behaviour, the worth, or otherwise, of rehabilitation programmes, the retreat from them during the 1980s, and widespread public and professional disillusionment about the effectiveness of rehabilitation and parole.

The Press Council does not accept the Herald’s coverage is misleading . An unusual amount of space was allocated to what was clearly thought to be a significant speech on an important public issue. It would be very rare for such a long speech to be published unedited. The Press Council is of the view that the Herald did a professional job of editing speech.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Jeffries (Chairman), Suzanne Carty, Aroha Puata, Ruth Buddicom, Alan Samson, Murray Williams, Denis McLean, Keith Lees and Terry Snow. John Gardner took no part in the consideration of this complaint.