Case Number: 993

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2004

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge

The New Zealand Press Council did not uphold either of the complaints laid by Mr P Carmody against a Dominion Post editorial of May this year and a Tom Scott cartoon in June.

The editorial, titled ‘A church and its dirty little secrets’ dealt with the Catholic Church’s lack of response and mishandling of the complaints by pupils who had been abused by Alan Woodcock, a teacher at a number of the church’s schools. One of Woodcock’s victims took a civil case against him and by going public, brought the matter to the attention of the police and the public.

Mr Carmody reacted to the editorial by way of a published Letter to the Editor part of which read ‘So why write an editorial and headline implying anyone but the Catholic Church would have done it better? And worse, why construct reports and opinions to tar the whole church when a few bad apples never mean the whole box is bad’. Over the next few days The Dominion Post printed a considerable number of letters from readers adversely reacting to Mr Carmody’s criticism of the editorial in question.

Following on from this series of critical letters Mr Carmody again wrote to the Editor objecting that he should have restricted his accusations to Woodcock, and his employer, the Society of Mary, a Catholic Order and not besmirched the whole Catholic Church. He claimed that the newspaper had an anti-Christian agenda. This letter was not published. Four weeks later a Tom Scott cartoon appeared in The Dominion Post also alluding to the Woodcock case. Mr Carmody once more wrote to The Dominion Post, this time complaining about the cartoon.

Mr Tim Pankhurst, the Editor of The Dominion Post, replied that the subject of the complaints - the sexual abuse by a Catholic priest of children within his care and the Church’s handling of that over a period of time - were matters of considerable public interest. He denied Mr Carmody’s claim that The Dominion Post had an anti-Christian agenda – he believed that the Catholic Church, as well as the former priest had much to answer for and did not resile from his editorial comments. He conceded that Tom Scott’s cartoon was tough but said that he was encouraged to give his cartoons a strong current affairs edge – good cartoonists can mock or encapsulate public sentiment or figures in a way mere words often cannot.

The Press Council does not uphold Mr Carmody’s two-part complaint. Mr Carmody’s original Letter to the Editor - objecting to the editorial - gave him the opportunity to have his personal views published. His follow up correspondence attacked the editorial in a similar vein to the material in his original letter. The second leg of his complaint against the Tom Scott cartoon is not upheld either. Cartoonists have a wide licence to use their skills to feature the news of the day, humorous or not. Editorials and cartoons are universally recognised as opinion pieces and are published at the discretion of the editor.

Ms Suzanne Carty took no part in the consideration of this complaint.