The New York Daily News, not usually given to kindness toward its competition, used restraint yesterday and put the item about Rupert Murdoch, owner of the New York Post, on Page 5.

The article said what the newspaper world in New York had been talking about for days and what WNBC-TV in New York reported Tuesday evening -- that Murdoch had purchased at least 30,000 tons of newsprint made in South Africa.

WNBC News also said that Murdoch's Post uses about 60,000 tons of paper a year and that Murdoch would save about $6 million annually by using paper that some New Yorkers think would be politically unacceptable.

The announcement was at least a little embarrassing for New York Mayor Edward Koch, who has benefited from glowing reports about him in many newspapers, including the Post. Koch, an outspoken critic of apartheid, turned on the local NBC reporter who questioned him about it and asked whether he knew of any South African products being purchased by NBC.

"There's a difference between what this government imposes upon itself and what private companies will impose upon themselves," Koch later told UPI in New York.

Murdoch spokesman Howard Rubenstein said the agency selling the paper to Murdoch "has been bitterly opposed to apartheid." He also said: "Murdoch and all of his publications have been opposed to apartheid" and that the newsprint industry in South Africa "has provided a great deal of employment for blacks in South Africa."

New York Daily News Publisher James Hoge told reporters besieging his office for comment yesterday that his paper does not get newsprint from South Africa.

Are they using Canadian suppliers instead for political reasons? "The facts speak for themselves," Hoge said. "We're not doing it now and we're not planning to do it."

As a general rule, a really funny practical joke is one that is played on somebody else.

Such is the lesson that has come home recently to Henry Porter, a columnist for London's Sunday Times who has been known to expend great energies fooling his fellow British journalists. In the spirit of competition and retaliation, Porter was recently hooked, reeled in and publicly poached by a competing paper, the Mail on Sunday.

Several weeks ago Porter got a call from a woman who said her name was Meryl Streep and who offered him an interview at London's Ritz hotel. Porter interviewed the Streep-like character and wrote the story for his People column on Sept. 29.

The appearance of this column in the first edition of the paper brought what has been described as "near euphoria" at the Mail on Sunday. The Mail then recast its next edition to explain mischievously that "Ms. Streep" was a free-lance journalist whose "interview" was paid for and/or perpetrated by a number of the Mail staff.

To say that Porter was humiliated is an understatement. From that disadvantaged point, however, he came back with one of the most gracefully written grovels in the history of modern Fleet Street.

After apologizing to the real Streep and to his readers, Porter wrote that he should not have been so easily fooled because he was "struck by the strangeness of the interview. 'Miss Streep' had very little to say and drawled in a quaint Mae West accent.

"It was an occasion, I am afraid, when instinct yelled at reason and reason took not the slightest notice," he wrote.

Contacted recently in London, Porter acknowledged that he was "the perfect target." Besides his practical joking, he has also written a book about his fellow British journalists. The title: "Lies, Damn Lies."

For years, for those who feared talking to the press -- not merely because they were misquoted, but because they were quoted correctly -- U.S. News & World Report was a last refuge. It was the place where a high government official could do an interview, then take back whatever he or she didn't like about it. These interviews were called "authorized" by U.S. News and deemed sanitized by the rest of journalistic Washington.

Now comes word that U.S. News Editor Shelby Coffey III changed the rules some months ago, saying that although officials were allowed to see their words before they went in print, they weren't allowed to change them unless they had made a factual error or their meaning was unclear.

Although many newspapers and other publications have steadfastly refused such prepublication vettings, Time magazine this week, for example, allowed William Casey, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to cast his eye over the edited transcript of its interview, lest he let any secrets out to Time's readers.

Said Time Washington bureau chief Strobe Talbott, "We thought it was a reasonable request given the sensitivity of what was being discussed and the sensitivity of the job . . . He doesn't have veto power."

At U.S. News, Attorney General Edwin Meese appeared to be caught in the change of policies, and after doing an interview two weeks ago, his office tried to take some of it back. In the interview Meese was quoted as saying, "You don't have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That's contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect."

According to Kathryn A. Bushkin, former press secretary to Democratic Sen. Gary Hart and now director of editorial administration at U.S. News, Meese tried to expunge the quote and would have been able to do so under the old system. "He tried to have it removed or changed but we said no," Bushkin said, adding that it was viewed by U.S. News editors as being neither unclear nor factually wrong.

Meese press secretary Terry H. Eastland said yesterday that he had argued with U.S. News legal affairs writer Ted Gest that Meese was not being clear and also believed strongly that people were innocent until proven guilty. Told of the Bushkin quote, Eastland said, "You should consider the source. She is someone who's politically motivated."

The announcement in The Boston Globe was suitably sedate, tucked away on Page 23 of Saturday's paper. But the Boston Herald, Rupert Murdoch's paper, announced the news on its front page with obvious glee.

"Boston Globe Columnist Quits Under Pressure," the Herald headline said. It referred to David Farrell, a political columnist and well-known Boston character, who resigned after it was learned that he received money for part-time employment from companies other than The Globe without informing Globe editors.

What complicates the Farrell case, as Bostonians can explain in detail understood only by other Bostonians, is that Farrell is one of three Globe employes named in a libel suit by former Massachusetts governor Edward J. King.

Boston sources said that King and Farrell were once close pals; when they fell out, they were "like two brothers who had a fight in the front yard," as one Globe reporter put it. And although King has also named Robert Turner and cartoonist Paul Szep in his suit, some Globe insiders and some old Boston political hands believe that King could, as one put it, "declare victory and get out, because he forced The Globe to clean house."

At the weekly Boston Phoenix, where a long piece on Farrell had been in the works and is now scheduled to appear on Saturday, Editor Richard Gaines saw it from the distance that is the strength and great luxury of alternative newspapers.

"Ed King forced The Globe to clean up its act," said Gaines, who clearly has lost little love for either. "What an irony."