FELIX BORENSTEIN AGAINST FISH & GAME NEW ZEALAND

Case Number: 2106

Council Meeting: MARCH 2010

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Fish & Game New Zealand

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Discrimination
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
Offensive Language
Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

Felix Borenstein complained to the Press Council about an article, “A Fair Australian Advance?” published in Fish & Game New Zealand in its November 2009 edition. The complaint is not upheld.



Background
The feature article, written in an opinionated tone, describes what the writer perceives as the pressures on New Zealand rivers, particularly in the lower South Island including Southland, as more and more overseas fishermen come to fish New Zealand rivers.
The writer states that while tourism officials and marketers are delighted with increasing numbers of Australian visitors (more than 1 million in the year to 2009), “they seemingly remain oblivious to the pressure being exerted on New Zealand’s natural capital by this increasing burden of visitors.”
In particular, he cites the Australians (the largest group of registered overseas fishermen) as creating the greatest problems, particularly in Southland, and gives examples of how groups of Australians and individuals are viewed as “ripping off the system” and taking advantage of cheap licences and lack of controls.
The writer urges the authorities to take action before it is too late and New Zealand rivers are overrun with fishing guides and tourists from overseas. He points out that guides from overseas do not have to pay for the right to bring groups here, and that profits from Australian guided fishing go back across the Tasman. The writer believes special licences should be issued for back-country fishing by tourists. He maintains that other controls are needed to avoid exploitation of the fresh water fishing resource and to ensure fair use of back- country huts.
As a sidebar to the article are statistics surveyed by a NIWA research scientist from licences issued, which give country of origin for licensees and the most popular New Zealand fishing destinations for people from different regions of the world.
In concluding, the writer states: “It would be a gross exaggeration to suggest all Aussies are ripping off the system and behaving badly; that’s not the case and something all those who spoke to Fish & Game Magazine were quick to point out. In fact, most don’t even blame them for the issues raised because they stem from our lax laws”.



The Complaint
In his complaint to the editor of Fish & Game Mr Borenstein stated that as an Australian, he found the article “offensive, racist, poorly written, factually incorrect and statistically flawed”. He said a condensed version of the article would read “Stupid Aussie bastards, go home. We hate you. You are not welcome in NZ”.
He complained that as Fish & Game is produced in association with the statutory authority that manages NZ’s trout fishery and is read by every licence holder in NZ as well as many international visitors, the article was an “act of mass vandalism to the ‘Pure NZ’ brand and undermines the work that you, Tourism New Zealand, the TIA and tourist operators do.”
Mr Borenstein, who owns and operates a South Island fishing lodge, stated that he believes that the article is statistically flawed because the statistics used are based on whole season licences, while the licences his lodge issues are almost always for 1 – 4 days.



The Editor’s Response
In responding to the initial complaint, the editor said it was well sourced, well written, factually correct, and in no way racist or statistically flawed. He believes the conclusions were balanced and fair to the majority of Australian fishermen.
The editor conceded that some “of our Australian brethren” will still feel incensed by the Kiwi sentiment that has been raised, but that “they need to understand that the resource belongs to us, not them”. He defended the forthright tone of the article and maintained that the article, while subjective, did concede that many of the problems raised were because of lax regulations and the pressures of increasing numbers of tourists.
He invited Mr Borenstein to write a letter to the editor, setting out his concerns.
The editor also provided the Press Council with a letter from a long-standing executive member of the NZ Professional Fishing Guides Association, verifying the issues raised in the article and stating that if anything, the article understated the issues raised.



Decision
The article raises issues about the impact of tourism on New Zealand’s natural resources. It focuses on the largest group coming to New Zealand specifically to fish and highlights the rifts that are emerging between Australians and New Zealanders who fish the rivers and who make a living as guides.
The article is written in a strong tone, takes a particular stance on the issues, and has clearly aroused strong reactions.
The Press Council does not find the article racist; though it does express a strong line on the actions of some Australian fishermen and guides who are said to be overstepping the mark of fishing etiquette and accepted standards of back-country behaviour.
The Press Council finds the article has provided an outlet for the concerns, real or perceived, of a considerable number of people.
The complaint is not upheld.



Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.