Case Number: 961

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2004

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Accuracy

Mr Denis Hampton complained about an article in The Press on 25 September 2003 linking the events which took place in Parihaka, Taranaki, 120 years ago with events in and around Christchurch’s Cathedral.

Drawing on information provided by former Dean Rev. Robyn Cave it contrasted Christchurch children on 5 November 1881 feasting on sticky buns to celebrate the Cathedral opening with “desperate” Parihaka youngsters on that same day staging a non-violent protest while their village was sacked by troops.

The article also referred to Parihaka’s prophet leaders, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi, later being shown the Cathedral, while they were imprisoned in Christchurch, as part of a campaign to convince them of European superiority.

Rev. Cave was quoted as saying that this was “a shameful period in New Zealand history,” and that “the issues still need to be addressed.”

Mr Hampton disputed most of the details given about the Parihaka incident and the prophets’ subsequent time in Christchurch. He said the article continued a longstanding pattern of misreporting what happened in Parihaka, and, to make matters worse, it also wrongly implied the prophets had been badly treated while in Christchurch.

When Mr Hampton complained to The Press he was offered the opportunity to write a 1000-word article on Te Whiti in Christchurch but he declined, describing the offer as “a cop-out”. The facts in this case were clear-cut, he said. The Press should verify the truth and put things right.

In reply the editor of The Press said the paper was not in a position to adjudicate on a dispute about an historical incident which had long been a matter of controversy. Its role was to offer conflicting viewpoints to readers so they could make up their own minds. It had published the material provided by Rev. Cave and was equally prepared to run an alternative view from Mr Hampton if he wished.

The Council, like The Press, is not equipped to adjudicate on the detailed accuracy of Rev. Cave’s statements, although it notes that several recent histories have expressed a broadly similar interpretation of the invasion of Parihaka.

What the Council has to decide is whether the paper behaved ethically. The article was essentially a trailer for a forthcoming function at the Cathedral, at which two Maori leaders would be speaking about the link between the Cathedral and Parihaka. The final paragraph gave details about the free-entry function. Readers would have realized that the article presented material supplied by Rev. Cave rather than the newspaper’s own report of historical events. The newspaper could have prevented any possible uncertainty on this point by some additional signposting that attributed all the views in the article more directly to Rev. Cave, but the Council does not believe that the origin and nature of the piece would have been misunderstood by readers.

Once Mr Hampton had made his complaint the newspaper offered him the chance to write a longer article that he could have used to rebut Rev. Cave’s views. It is hard to see what else The Press should have done.

The complaint is not upheld.