MARTIN WARRINER AGAINST KAPITI OBSERVER
Case Number: 2184
Council Meeting: MARCH 2011
Verdict: Not Upheld
Publication: Kapiti Observer
Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Defamation/Damaging To Reputation
The complaint is not upheld.
On November 8, 2010, The Observer published an article headed No ‘Maoriland’ macron stating how Mr Warriner had forced the council to back down over its use of the macron over the letter “a” in Kapiti.
The article quoted Mr Warriner, described as an English immigrant, as saying the macron was “offensive to the New Zealand language.” He was also quoted as saying: “At the end of the day, this is New Zealand – it’s not Maoriland. I didn’t come to Maoriland, I came to New Zealand. I speak the New Zealand language, I’m a citizen of New Zealand.”
On November 14, Mr Warriner emailed the editor a letter he wanted published. In the email, he said the article was sensationalised and did not follow the emphasis he thought the reporter who interviewed him was following.
In it, Mr Warriner apologised to those who had taken offence at his use of the word “Maoriland” and since publication, he had received “a crash course (phone, face-to-face and written) in aspects of Maori culture” he was unaware of.
On December 20, 2010, the newspaper published another story about the council and the macron, reporting how the council had taken a stand against the man “who hates its macron” and, by a 6-4 vote, decided to use the macron on all its documents.
The article also quoted Mr Warriner as disagreeing with the decision.
Mr Warriner emailed the editor on December 20 and said he had received further adverse racial remarks.
He was on public record as saying his stance did not threaten the use of macrons in Te Reo Maori. He had only challenged the district council’s illegal insertion of the macron above its name. He submitted a suggested retraction.
The next day, the editor responded that the sentence in the report clearly referred to the council’s use of the macron and it was a subject that had angered Mr Warriner. He saw no need for a retraction and apology but would run his view as a letter to the editor.
Mr Warriner replied the same day that such a step was unacceptable. He claimed the newspaper was responsible for the “re-fuelled racial hatred towards me and my family” and he sought a retraction and apology for saying he “hates its macron.”
On January 6, 2011, the newspaper published a short letter over Mr Warriner’s name quoting two paragraphs from his email of December 20, which explained his position over the macron.
Among other things, it stated that he was not threatening the use of macrons in Te Reo Maori and at no time had he indicated that he “hates its macron.”
In an email to the editor that day, Mr Warriner said he had not given his permission for the paper to print his view as a letter to the editor, and the letter had generated more adverse racial remarks. He repeated his expectation that the newspaper print a retraction and correction.
The Editor’s Response
The editor, in his response to the Press Council, said the second article was accurate. It did not say Mr Warriner hated macrons in the Maori language, as he suggested; the use of the word “its” made it clear Mr Warriner took issue with the council’s use of the macron.
Mr Warriner claimed the newspaper incited racial hatred towards him, but any backlash received would have been as a result of his accurately reported comments, the editor believed.
As for the publication of the second letter, the editor said that Mr Warriner had said that placing his view as a letter was unacceptable, which he took to mean that a letter to the editor was not good enough, Mr Warriner wanted an apology and retraction. At no time did Mr Warriner inform him the letter was not for publication.
The two articles covered newsworthy events, and the newspaper was justified in reporting them. Even Mr Warriner is prepared to accept that he might have chosen his words more wisely when he was quoted in the first article, and they were bound to get a reaction. The newspaper cannot be held to account for any criticism that came Mr Warriner’s way as a result of what it accurately reported.
Nor can the newspaper be criticised even if what Mr Warriner believed would be emphasised in the article did not turn out to be. Any reporting is likely to change as facts and comments are gathered.
The phrase in the second article which claimed Mr Warriner “hates its macron” states emotively something that might have been more accurately described as strong objection. But the content of the article makes clear that Mr Warriner was not objecting to macrons per se; he objected to what he believed was an illegal act by the council in putting the macron over its name.
Given Mr Warriner’s actions and statements in the past about the council and its use of the macron in Kapiti, it cannot be said that the newspaper was wrong in reporting it that way.
The Press Council believes that while a less emotive word might have been more appropriate, the use of the word “hates” does not justify an uphold decision.
The second published “letter” is more troublesome. It is part of an email and Mr Warriner made it clear to the editor that its publication as a letter was “totally unacceptable.” There does not seem to have been any discussion on what would appear in the “letter,” although it made the point even more strongly that Mr Warriner’s objections were focused on the council’s macrons, not Te Reo.
In publishing the second letter, the editor was taking a pragmatic approach to a correspondent whose aim was to get the newspaper to apologise. The editor chose to edit and publish part of an email as a response.
That was a mistake, though not, in the Council’s view, worthy of an uphold decision. Certainly, they were the words of the complainant but the editor should have known it was not what he wanted.
The editor was entitled to reject the suggested retraction and correction, particularly as he did not accept that the newspaper had done anything wrong.
The Press Council also notes that Mr Warriner was attacking the newspaper quite publicly by copying into his emails numerous other parties, including apparently another newspaper, a practice that is seldom helpful when trying to negotiate a successful outcome.
The complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.