Case Number: 851

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2001

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion

Ruling Categories: Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Editorial Freedom

The New Zealand Press Council has not upheld a complaint from Peter Sullivan of Wellington against The Dominion.

The case revolved around whether changes The Dominion made to a letter to the editor from Mr Sullivan were within the bounds of normal editing or were such as to alter the meaning.
The letter in question was a response to an article that a Wellington business woman, Mrs Esther Loong, had decided to return to Singapore.

Mr Sullivan wrote that he was overjoyed to read of the departure of Mrs Loong and her family. “She and her fellow business persons (of whatever race or ethnicity) were never wanted, invited or welcome in New Zealand as far as I am concerned.”
In the original of the letter he then said, “The reason for this viewpoint on my part is the absolute disaster their business practices have been for this country, especially in their application to the social arena.”
The Dominion changed this to, “Their business practices have been an absolute disaster for this country, especially in their application to the social arena.”
Mr Sullivan went on to note that 20 years ago, before the arrival of Mrs Loong and her fellow entrepreneurs, New Zealand had reasonable hospitals, a state-owned infrastructure and good job opportunities, but these things had now vanished.
In the original he then wrote, “If that were not bad enough, the National Party did its best a decade later to get as many more such opportunists as possible under its lax immigration laws so it could gerrymander shaky Auckland seats resulting in what at the time was termed by the popular press “the Asian invasion”.”
The Dominion removed the phrase “If that were not bad enough.”

Publication of this letter resulted in considerable correspondence from readers criticising Mr Sullivan for his comments and in many cases also criticising The Dominion for publishing the letter.

The editor agreed, in a footnote to the correspondence, that in retrospect the letter should not have been published and apologised to the Loong family and the Singapore community.
Mr Sullivan complained to the editor that the criticism he had been subjected to was the result of the changes to his letter. In particular he felt the removal of the phrase “The reason for this viewpoint on my part” had undermined an emphasis that the sole reason for his views was the business practices of business migrants and not, as some critics had assumed, racism or xenophobia.

The editor rejected this claim, maintaining that the changes were merely part of normal editing practice, removing superfluous words, and did not alter the meaning of the letter.

The Press Council has frequently advised editors of the need to take great care in editing letters and to mark letters as “abridged” when making changes of substance.
Nevertheless, the Council feels in this case the changes were within the bounds of acceptable editing and does not consider they altered the meaning of the letter. Nor does it agree that the response to Mr Sullivan’s comments were as a consequence of the changes.
Mr Sullivan wrote a letter expressing a controversial viewpoint and the Council has no doubt that reaction would have been just as strong if it had been published precisely as written.

People with complaints against a newspaper should first complain in writing to the editor of the publication and then, if not satisfied with the response, complain to the Press Council. Complaints should be addressed to the Secretary, P O Box 10-879 The Terrace, Wellington. Tel 437 5220. Information on the Press Council is available on the internet at