It was OK to publish quotes from an e-mail from a reader to a journalist since the writer didn’t indicate the e-mail was private or not for publication, the New Zealand Media Council determined.
The issue arose when a reader, Philip Temple, complained that his e-mail was cited in an opinion article for the Stuff news site about the Ockham New Zealand book awards. Temple had e-mailed the writer, Philip Matthews, who is also a judge for the awards contest, to complain about a book not being included in the awards’ list.
Temple told iMediaEthics he plans to write about his complaint and experience with the media council for the NZ Society of Authors’ magazine NZ Author. He said he stands by his complaint and argued the issue was a breach of copyright. Stuff editor in chief Patrick Crewdson declined to comment to iMediaEthics about the ruling.
“Temple complains that the email was private and the use of material from it without permission was a breach of his privacy,” the media council explained. “He had not received any reply to the email, and the first he knew of its publication was personalised Twitter abuse. He had certainly not given permission for any part of it to be published.”
But Temple didn’t mark his e-mail as private, sent it to an e-mail address affiliated with Stuff news site, and noted that Matthews, the person whom he was e-mailed is an “influential Christchurch media arts commentator, ” so Stuff argued it was clear it was not personal.
The media council agreed with Stuff. “There is no overall presumption that correspondence is private unless it is specifically expressed to be available for publication and in this case it is by no means clear that the email was, or was intended to be, a private communication,” the media council ruled. “It was written to a journalist on a matter that was not obviously personal or sensitive and has every appearance of a contribution to a debate that was already taking place in public.” Further, the media council noted that the e-mail was quoted in an opinion and not news article, so “balance is not essential.” As such, the complaint was diismissed.