Yesterday in Parliament, Winston Peters tabled a letter of protest from the Herald journalists’ chapel to APN chief executive Martin Simons.
The letter related to Simons’ meeting with John Key to draft a â€˜clarification’ for the Bay Report’s quote of Key saying he “would love to see wages drop.” The Bay Report was then forced to run this ‘clarification’ despite the paper’s staunch backing of the story at all levels. The Herald journalists’ letter reads:
Dear Mr Simons,
I am writing to express the concern of the Herald Journalists Chapel over the “clarification” published in yesterday’s Bay Report newspaper.
We understand that the item, regarding comments attributed to John Key in the December 20, 2007 edition of the paper, was inserted on your instructions.
It is not necessary here to traverse the facts of the original news article or the need or otherwise for the clarification.
Our concern arises from your management interference in an editorial decision of a newspaper. Our concern is heightened by the fact that your action was on behalf of a political party. We clearly have no objection to your conversing or corresponding with politicians. Our concern is that you have acted as the conduit for an approach which ought properly to have been made to the reporter and/or editor/s concerned. It might have seemed a small matter since the paper concerned is a local one. However, the potential effect is to portray all New Zealand newspapers owned by APN as subservient to political interference. The risk is that readers will perceive the Herald, which has previously carefully guarded its political independence, as open to National Party influence.
We would appreciate hearing your view on this matter and ask that in future you respect the tradition of editorial independence.
We are circulating this letter to other journalists at the Herald and within the union because of the widespread concern among journalists about the matter.
It’s one thing for a politician to contact a journalist or an editor if they feel they’ve been treated unfairly, but to get management to interfere in the editorial process is completely out of line. APN management have overstepped the mark too. It is a gross breach of media freedom for a proprietor to decide to kill a story because it upsets a political ally, and worse to gag journalists when they object.
The Herald’s journalists deserve to be congratulated for standing up to their management in support of media freedom.