SARAH TAYLOR AGAINST HAWKE'S BAY TODAY

Case Number: 2206

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2011

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Hawkes Bay Today

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Letters to the Editor, Closure, Non-Publication
Offensive Language

Sarah Taylor makes a complaint about a message in the TEXT US section of the Hawke’s Bay Today is insulting to non Maori and tends towards incitement of racial hostility.

Mrs Taylor’s complaint is not upheld.

Background
The text message was published in the Hawke’s Bay Today on 28 May 2011. It was published in a regular forum column that allows the public to send in text messages and/or make comment relating to current issues for possible inclusion in the column. The name of the person who sent the text was not included in the column.

The text message related to what the sender saw as English (poms) “racist remarks regarding Maori and place names etc”. The sender regarded the English as “guests” in Aotearoa and suggested that they “Enjoy their residency and keep their incessant carping to themselves”.

Complaint
Mrs Taylor found the sentiments expressed in the published text insulting, offensive and racist. She believed that it implied that “all those of non-Maori descent are guests” in their own country. She went on to state that in her opinion the text tended towards incitement of racial hostility in breach of the Human Rights Act.

She believed that the paper should not become an unwitting vehicle for vitriol against a specific racial group. At the very least such messages should be attributed.

Mrs Taylor was offered the opportunity to provide her own comment for publication in the column but declined preferring to refer the matter to the Press Council. She agreed with the editor’s analysis that the column is a “robust forum”.

Response from Hawke’s Bay Today
In reply the editor stated that the published correspondence complained about was a text to the editor and these were always anonymous. The text-the-editor column was a robust forum with some rather frank exchanges of view.

He said that “while we try to weed out anything really offensive there often are texts that some readers take issue with”. The paper’s usual remedy was to offer the opportunity to have an alternative view published and this option was offered to Mrs Taylor but she declined to do so.

The editor informed Mrs Taylor that he would meet with the paper’s letters page editor to make sure they did not “slip into publishing texts with unacceptable racial overtones”.

Discussion and Decision
The Council was provided with copies of the Text 2 Ed column covering several weeks including the column containing the text which led to Mrs Taylor’s complaint.

It is clear to anyone reading the column that it is a robust forum that allows the public to comment and that some readers could take issue with some of the expressed comments and viewpoints.

The text is one person’s viewpoint and is expressed as such in a column which is designed for such discussion. It does not incite racism but puts forward a viewpoint and those reading it can decide how much credibility they give it.

Mrs Taylor was provided with the opportunity to give her own viewpoint which she declined.

The complaint is not upheld.

Nevertheless, the complainant’s concern about publishing texts from anonymous sources is also of concern to the Press Council. As mentioned in Case 2121, the very nature of texting seems to encourage an instant, forceful, almost throwaway response rather than the more considered approach of composing a letter to the editor. This may be well be exacerbated when you do not have to back your comment with your own identity.

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