MICHAEL EDGAR AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2542

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2016

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Discrimination

Overview

Michael Edgar complained to the Press Council that an article entitled “Tourist driver pleads guilty to death of Dunedin man”, published in theNew Zealand Herald on August 24 breached Principle 7, Discrimination and Diversity.

Background

On August 24 the New Zealand Herald published a court report that originally appeared in theOtago Daily Times of the case of a Chinese national, Limin Ma, who pleaded guilty to causing the death of Dunedin man Riley Baker in a head-on crash on State Highway 1. According to the report, Ma crossed the centre line and smashed into Baker’s oncoming motorcycle when he attempted to pull into a rest area on the opposite side of the road, in order to “have a view of the ocean”. Mr Baker was seriously injured in the accident and died two days later in hospital.

The article reported the police summary, and said the judge had remanded Ma for sentencing on September 7. It went on to include the details of two other fatal accidents in the same area: in November 2015 Motueka motorcyclist Craig Chambers was killed when Singaporean tourist Wei Kiong Lew crossed the double yellow lines into the path of oncoming traffic on State Highway 1 about 20 km north of where Mr Baker died, and in February 2015, five-year-old Ruby Marris was killed when a car driven by Chinese tourist Jing Cao crossed the centre line on State Highway 1 about 10km north of where Mr Baker died, and smashed into the Marris family’s station wagon.

The Complaint

Mr Edgar complained that the only connection between the three offenders named in the report was the fact that they were all Chinese, not by nationality but by race.

He pointed out that no non-Chinese foreign tourist offenders were mentioned in the story.

He said the offences committed by the three Chinese named happened months apart from each other and claimed it was evident the journalist who wrote the article “has trawled through records looking for serious traffic offenders with Chinese names”.

Mr Edgar said he has a Chinese wife and three Chinese children “so I am particularly sensitive to the growing anti-Chinese sentiment in Auckland”.

He requested the Press Council to “require the NZ Herald to publish an apology for deliberately or negligently fomenting anti-Chinese sentiment through an anti-Chinese article”.

He suggested the Council might “take it upon itself to require the Otago Daily Times to do likewise”.

The Response

Murray Kirkness, weekday editor of the NZ Herald, apologized to Mr Edgar for any unintended offence caused by theNZ Herald publishing of the Otago Daily Times story, but strongly denied the assertion that theHerald was racist.

He rejected the claim that the three drivers were grouped together in the report because they were Chinese by race, and that the report fomented ill-feeling against all people of Chinese extraction.

He pointed out that the article, about the upcoming sentencing of Chinese national Limin Ma, described one of the other named drivers as a ‘Singaporean tourist’, the other a ‘Chinese tourist’.”

Mr Kirkness said the issue of overseas drivers being involved in road crashes in New Zealand has been a matter of public debate for more than a decade. He included links to several recent articles in the New Zealand media, which quoted a wide range of people and organisations, from the NZTA, police, coroners, tourism boards, as well as the Chinese consulate in Christchurch. The reports discussed accidents where overseas tourists, not just Chinese nationals, were involved. He also referred to several public petitions calling for greater scrutiny on foreign drivers.

Matters of public interest such as this, he said, required the Herald and other news organisations to report on such matters. “To not do so would be a dereliction of our duty.”

He believed the Herald had reported the material accurately, in a fair and balanced way and declined Mr Edgar’s demand for an apology.

He suggested Mr Edgar could express his views in a letter to the editor.

The Decision

The number of overseas tourists prosecuted for driving dangerously on New Zealand roads has been a matter of serious concern for many years, and sadly, theODT/NZ Herald story on Limin Ma is only one of many reports of fatal accidents caused by criminally incompetent foreign drivers. In this case, the story dealt with the court hearing at which Chinese national Ma pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death, and included details of two other accidents where foreign drivers, who happened to have Chinese names, had crossed the centre line, also causing fatal accidents.

As in a previous complaint to the Press Council, case 2490, a random search of the internet for stories about foreign driver crashes reported in the media over the past three years similarly found that in every story, the driver’s nationality (as opposed to race and ethnicity) was reported.

There is no question that reports of accidents involving overseas tourists are a matter of public interest, and it is the Press Council’s opinion that there is nothing inherently racist in pointing out a driver’s nationality, specifically when the issue underpinning the story is the ongoing concern around the driving ability of tourists on New Zealand roads.

Mr Edgar’s claim that the journalist who wrote the story trawled through the files looking for cases which mentioned other Chinese tourists is taking a very long bow, in our opinion, and with reference to Principle 7, there is no evidence that the references to nationality are gratuitous. What links all three incidents mentioned in this complaint is more the fact that they were all caused by tourists breaking the most fundamental of road rules, and that three people had died within a 20 km area as a result.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering tis complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Ruth Buddicom, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.