Case Number: 900

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2002

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy

Maarie Te Toohoura complains on behalf of about 500 (out of 43,000) Tainui registered beneficiaries of the $170 million Raupatu Settlement that a New Zealand Herald article on her tribe’s affairs is inaccurate and “slanderous”.
The complaint says that the June 15 article is one of several emanating from the newspaper “where incorrect, inaccurate and inappropriate allegations” have been published.
Maarie Te Toohoura refers to other articles objected to, but submits only one other for consideration, appending it to the main object of complaint: a Weekend News special by reporter James Gardiner.

Gardiner’s piece, published after the sudden resignation of Tainui’s chief executive David Gray, reports financial and other difficulties facing the tribe.
Tainui refused to be interviewed for the article, leaving its author access only to a one-page statement that claimed for the tribe a strong financial position. Gardiner comes to a different conclusion, however, after talking to Gray and other former senior executives.
Maarie Te Toohoura takes particular umbrage at a comment reported of former chief financial officer Michael Crawford: “The kingitanga people [those supporting the Maori monarchy] regard the settlement as for their benefit. Tainui is an autocracy with [Maori Queen] Dame Te Ata [Te Atairangikaahu] at the top and a few families around her and the rest of the tribe are second-class citizens”. The reference to “second-class citizens” appears to be the substance of the “slanderous” element of the complaint.

The second article objected to, reported by Gregg Wycherley, contains a similar sentiment from Huntly GP David Gilgen – that Tainui beneficiaries are the “poorest of the poor”, unable to challenge decisions made by their tribe’s board.

In an email to the Herald, Maarie Te Toohoura expresses the belief that the Herald had been swayed by a disaffected “minority group” that believed the settlement was to be distributed as a cash bonus to registered beneficiaries, when the tribe’s actual policy was to accumulate assets for subsequent generations.
She then said that the newspaper was printing “sensational allegations” rather than facts and, in so doing, was breaching the Treaty of Waitangi because a “bi-cultural nation” required respect be accorded both Pakeha and tangata whenua.
“Because the Maaori way of doing things is different that does not give you permission to create published articles denigrating the way Maaori go about doing things.”

In response, Herald deputy editor David Hastings says Maarie Te Toohoura has not been specific in identifying the inaccuracies she alleged.
He notes that she “clearly objects” to Crawford’s opinion that many in the tribe are treated as second-class citizens, but argues that Crawford is entitled to his opinion.
On the question of balanced reporting, Hastings says any one-sidedness in the account is entirely due to Tainui’s refusal to discuss the allegations made by the former senior management figures.
He asserts that the reporting is accurate, saying Maarie Te Toohoura has provided no evidence to suggest otherwise.

It should be noted that the special report is by nature of an analysis following an investigation: after his research Gardiner is entitled to make forceful conclusions.
The newspaper might remain aware of its duty to put both sides in any contentious or strongly debated issue. Regardless of Tainui’s unwillingness to front up for an interview, the opposing viewpoint could have been given stronger voice than a paragraph reporting Tainui’s claim of a strong financial position,
However Maarie Te Toohoura has difficulty arguing lack of balance with the tribe having refused to grant an interview.
In contrast, Wycherley’s article is a clearly attributed report of the opinions of resigning chief executive officer Gray, given in explanation for his stepping down. Gray’s opinion – as is the included comment of the Huntly GP - is topical and relevant.
It is not tenable, on the basis of the attributed quotes, to call either article slanderous. The words complained of are general by nature and are given as personal and sympathetic opinions of the lot of ordinary Tainui.
The complainant cannot argue that calling these people “second class citizens” is a slur on all 43,000 Tainui beneficiaries. Rather the comment makes a point – in the opinion of the speaker – that there is a level of beneficiary not privy to settlement spoils.

In a democracy, a free press has the right to publish such an opinion.
The comments cannot be considered defamatory and there can be little doubt that, if Tainui had spoken freely, its viewpoints would have been given more coverage.
The further complaint that the reports breach the Treaty of Waitangi is also difficult to accept. The articles highlight perceived differences between the lot of Maori and the question of “respecting two cultures” is hardly an issue. Neither article can be said to be “denigrating the way Maaori go about doing things”.

The Press Council does not uphold the complaints.