TANYA TOAILOA AGAINST KIWIBLOG

Case Number: 2639

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld with Dissent

Publication: kiwiblog

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Columnists
Comment and Fact
Discrimination

Overview

On 8 November 2017 the online commentary site Kiwiblog published a contribution by David Garrett headed “Guest Post: Pasifika is Bollocks”. The post was made after the recent Tongan/Samoan rugby match and the associated public disturbances including fighting between Tongans and Samoans, as reported in the media. Among other points made, the guest post stated “Samoans and Tongans hate each other with a vengeance”. It also claimed the recent events described above disproved the implications of the term “Pasifika”, i.e. that underneath cultural differences, Pacific Islands people are all one big happy family.

The complaint was not upheld by a majority of the Press Council 8:1.

The Complaint

Tanya Toailoa says the guest post is inflammatory, racist and irresponsible. She notes that assertions made by the piece are factually wrong i.e. that all Samoans and Tongans hate each other; and that they all are aware of historical reasons for Tongan/Samoan enmity. She does not accept that the article is acceptable, is fair comment or ‘just an opinion’. She wants the article removed from the site. The complainant cites two Press Council Principles: Comment and Fact; Discrimination and Diversity.

The Response

David Farrar, editor of Kiwiblog, says that from time to time he publishes guest posts offering a variety of points of view. This does not mean he, as editor, agrees with all the opinions expressed, as in this case.

He responds that in relation to Principle 4, Mr Garrett’s article is clearly an opinion piece, and that no reasonable person could regard his assertions as factual. Principle 7 provides that race is a legitimate subject for discussion where relevant, and the context of the piece was extensive media coverage of Tongan/Samoan disturbances.

Mr Farrar says his offer of a right of reply to the complainant was the appropriate response to the complaint; and believes agreeing to the complainant’s request for removal of the article would have a chilling effect on the ability of publications to allow strong opinions to be expressed.

The Decision

A search of the Internet reveals that there are traditional stories of past Tongan and Samoan rivalry, and unverified accounts of recent incidents, including some involving rugby matches. Apart from that is hard to find a basis for Mr Garrett’s surprising claim that Tongans and Samoans hate each other. In fact he contradicts himself by noting “you would never know it at pan-pacific gatherings – at least until cocktail hour”. Mr Garrett’s guest post is unpleasant, grossly exaggerated and provocative for many readers and possibly intended to be so. It is not surprising that many people commented online about the guest post, both positively and negatively.

Sporting events worldwide can provide an emotional environment where racial prejudices are revealed and unruly behaviour occurs. The Press Council believes the media are entitled to report these occurrences, and commentators to express their opinions. The complainant certainly has a legitimate contrary opinion to Mr Garrett. She has been given the opportunity to express that in a balancing Kiwiblog opinion piece, but has to date not taken that up.

On Principle 4, Comment and Fact, the Council believes the article is an opinion piece and marked as such by the heading “Guest Post”. The contentious statements in the guest post are assertions, and we accept the editor’s submission that they are clearly Mr Garrett’s opinions. The facts of the historical basis and recent history of Tongan/Samoan rivalry are publicly (although perhaps not widely) known and do not appear to be contested.

The Press Council Principle 7 notes that issues of race are legitimate subjects for discussion where relevant. In this case Samoan/Tongan sporting rivalry was an essential part of the news story sparking the opinion piece. Given this context, we consider that dealing with the Tongan/Samoan issue in an opinion piece could not be considered gratuitous emphasis on race.

The complaint is not upheld, with one member Hank Schouten dissenting from this decision.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, John Roughan, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.