ANDREW SPENCER AGAINST THE NORTHERN ADVOCATE

Case Number: 2716

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2018

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Northern Advocate

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Editorial Discretion

Overview

This is a complaint that two articles relating to protests against Ngapuhi leadership and delays in securing a Waitangi Treaty settlement were not newsworthy and lacked balance.

The Complaint

Andrew Spencer complained about the publication of two articles in The Northern Advocate relating to protests against Ngapuhi leadership involved in the protracted settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims.

The first article published on July 21, 2018 was headed “Hikoi calls for change in Ngapuhi leadership – Protest group demands better outcomes.” The second on July 24 was headlined “Iwi leadership questioned at hikoi – Kaikohe event puts onus on Ngapuhi leaders, raises dividend, fisheries, Treaty claim issues.”

The articles were also published under similar headlines in the NZ Herald/Northern Advocate web sites.

Mr Spencer said there was nothing newsworthy in the first story.

“The issue of Ngapuhi’s leadership has been on our national news for yonks. The hikoi was nothing new. Giving it the full frontal in a weekend paper was a blatant attempt to foment discord by giving such prominent coverage to one part in preference to the other.”

He said the paper should be required to restore balance by giving the Ngapuhi runanga a right of reply with equally prominent coverage.

The Response

Northern Advocate editor Rachel Ward stood by the paper’s reporting and story placements.

She said the paper had been publishing all sides of the debate for a number of years. The Treaty claim was an issue that affected a large number of Northlanders and it was appropriate to inform people with an interest in the settlement process.

It was important for the settlement to be concluded as soon as possible as this would be a catalyst to raising the fortunes and economic stability of many hapu within Ngapuhi.

The hikoi was a public event and it was the job of a newspaper to act as the eyes and ears of the public. The paper could have been accused of covering up if it had not reported on it.

The paper was not aware that a similar hikoi had been held previously, but if it had it would have covered that too.

She was not prepared to invite the runanga to write a front page article for a Saturday edition of the paper - to explain where they were at in their dealings with the Crown - as they were given the opportunity to comment for both articles.

However, she said she would consider publishing a letter to the editor or an opinion piece for the paper if the runanga would like to write one.

The Decision

Editors make decisions every day on what stories should be covered and the prominence they should be given.

There is no question that newspapers have a duty to report on issues of public interest and a Treaty settlement is clearly important to the Northland community.

The Northern Advocate editor considered the hikoi was a significant matter of interest to the paper’s readers and, while an earlier hikoi on the same issue was missed by the paper, it was still a newsworthy event. There were no grounds for challenging the editor’s judgement in this case.

Clearly there is a dispute over runanga leadership and that was the basis for these stories. Conflict is the gist of a lot of reporting and that can inevitably inflame matters but we see no evidence that the editor in this case set out to foment discord.

As for balance the newspaper published comment from runanga chairman Raniera Tau who issued a statement defending its leadership.The paper fulfilled its responsibility by giving it the opportunity to put its case.

The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Chris Darlow, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tracy Watkins and Tim Watkin.

Craig Cooper took no part in the consideration of this complaint.