NEIL WAY AGAINST TARANAKI DAILY NEWS

Case Number: 2135

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2010

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Taranaki Daily News

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Discrimination
Columnists
Editorial Freedom
Offensive Language

Neil Way objected to a provocative “Korero” column written by a local Maori leader, Peter Moeahu, and published in the Taranaki Daily News on 14 June 2010.

The complaint is not upheld.

The Complaint
The column appeared on June 14 2010 and also featured on the newspaper’s website. Mr Way objected to it, in a letter to Taranaki Daily News editor Jonathan MacKenzie on the day of publication, quoting some of the words and phrases used. He said it was blatant Maori racism and worded to incite racial disharmony

Complaining to the Press Council, Mr Way admitted Mr Moeahu was entitled to his views, but said he and the newspaper were not entitled to print “propaganda in a manner intended to incite racial disharmony.” Mr Way said he did not consider himself a racist.

The Newspaper’s Response
Mr MacKenzie said the newspaper had not breached any press or human rights codes. The column was an opinion piece, the views it expressed were Mr Moeahu’s alone and did not represent the newspaper’s view. The columnist aimed to stimulate debate and present a view – a Maori view – that was likely to be different from that of many readers.
In a further explanation to the Press Council, deputy editor Robert Mitchell said Mr Moeahu was a well known and respected Taranaki Maori leader. Previous letters to the editor from him on issues pertaining to Maoridom and societal attitudes were well written, provocative and well-read. He had been invited to write a regular opinion column to give readers an insight into the other side of the race debate and its impact on lives around the country and the Taranaki region.
“First and foremost, Korero is opinion. It is on the opinion page and the paper has made it clear that Mr Moeahu’s views are his alone and not those of the paper. It is not ‘propaganda’, it is his opinion, and we have regularly printed many counter views through our Letters forum.”
Referring to Mr Way’s assertion that Mr Moeahu was racist and hostile to “white people”, Mr Mitchell admitted the column complained about was “strident” and demonstrated hostility towards the State, particularly over the “racist perspective” of the seabed and foreshore legislation. “But that is his opinion and his ‘hostility’ is often displayed by those who write a letter to the editor complaining about rates, and local and central government.”
While the column could be provocative and often strident, it was not “threatening” and the only people who would find it abusive or insulting would be those offended by robust debate.
He believed a regional newspaper should publish commentary that pushed the debate and boundaries and raised readers’ understanding on major issues such as race.
Mr Moeahu was provocative, satirical and sometimes tongue-in-cheek but also provided a valuable informative insight into Maori grievances and politics.

Further Comment from the Complainant
Mr Way noted that Mr Moeahu was a well known Taranaki Maori activist whose letters to the editor had been increasingly abusive to “whites”. Mr Way disagreed with the newspaper’s view that the column provided an insight into the other side of the race debate: “I didn’t realise that this country was having or indeed required any such debate!”
He disagreed with other aspects of Mr Mitchell’s explanations and said the column merely showed Mr Moeahu’s personal bitterness over perceived past injustices. He appreciated that the column was an opinion piece and presented as such but the wording would be considered grossly inappropriate “if not blatantly racist” if used against Maori, Chinese or any other minority race.
As the column also appeared online, he asked if it was painting an inappropriate picture of New Zealand.

Discussion and Decision
The Taranaki Daily News has made it plain that Mr Moeahu’s views were his alone and not those of the paper. It regularly published counter views through its Letters forum. The column appeared in a page labelled Opinion.
While some may find Mr Moeahu’s views not to their taste or indeed offensive, he is expressing those views as a columnist, in what is clearly an opinion piece. Columnists are encouraged and entitled to express their views in a forthright and provocative way. Columns aim to stimulate debate and often walk a fine line in terms of offending sensibilities.
Mr Way’s complaint cites as grounds the Press Council’s Clause 1, which relates to accuracy, fairness and balance. However, this is clearly an opinion piece, not reportage, and the columnist is entitled to express his views in that context. This column complies with the Press Council’s Principle 4 on Comment and Fact.

Accordingly the complaint is not upheld.

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