A complaint by André Wardenaar about an article entitled “Pakeha men ideal target for National” published in the New Zealand Herald on 13 February 2004 has not been upheld.

The article, by Dr Danny Keenan, of Massey University, was a response to Don Brash’s Orewa speech on race issues. The passage complained of read: “When New Zealand won self-government in 1852, Maori were again denied the vote. The vote went to Pakeha males. Fifteen years later, in 1867, Maori were finally granted four special seats.”

The complainant wrote to the newspaper saying that the article “does in my opinion not report the facts and by publishing this article your paper has aided and abetted Mr Keenan to deliberately mislead and misinform readers by commission and omission.” He said that the article contravened both Principle 1 (Accuracy) and Principle 6 (distinguishing fact from opinion).

Mr Wardenaar pointed out that the right to vote in 1853 was defined not by race but according to sex, age, nationality and the possession of property. Many New Zealand residents did not qualify to vote in the elections that year.

Mr Wardenaar’s claim that the article deliberately misleads and misinforms readers by omission is centred on the third sentence of the passage complained about. “Mr Keenan fails to inform us that the granting of four special seats in 1867 was a special right for Maori only and that other New Zealanders, not qualified to vote, (apart from gold miners) were not given this right.”

The deputy editor said that the placing of the article on the Perspectives page made clear that it was an opinion piece. He did not address the issue of accuracy himself, but referred the complaint to Dr Keenan who made a lengthy response. This led to a further statement from the complainant. Both writers discussed wider aspects of the article than the three sentences directly complained about.

The Press Council notes that the official Elections New Zealand website includes the following statement:

New Zealand’s 1853 electoral franchise was theoretically ‘colour-blind’. But in reality very few Maori could qualify under the property requirement because they possessed their lands communally (as iwi, hapu or whanau groups) and not under individual freehold or leasehold title like Europeans. … In 1853 about 100 Maori (mostly tribal leaders) were enrolled to vote - out of a total electorate of 5,849.

In regard to the third sentence complained of that website says: “After much debate, in 1867 Parliament agreed to set up four electorates specifically for Maori. This solution was similar to the ‘special representation’ introduced for gold miners earlier that decade. To avoid difficulties with property ownership, all Maori men over 21 were eligible to vote (and stand for Parliament).”

The Press Council rejects the allegations that the article deliberately misled and misinformed readers by commission and omission. This may be Mr Wardenaar’s opinion, but there is nothing to substantiate such a serious charge.

The Council finds nothing amiss in the third sentence cited: “Fifteen years later, in 1867, Maori were finally granted four special seats”. In the complainant’s opinion Dr Keenan should have amplified that statement to say more about what was “special” about the four seats, but there was no obligation on him to do so and no ethical issue arises.

It is clear from the official Elections New Zealand website material quoted above that the first two sentences complained of express a strongly-felt interpretation of the practical effect of the 1853 arrangements, not the formal franchise provisions. Mr Wardenaar insisted that the precise terms of the franchise did not deny Maori the vote. He also rejected the use of the word “again” as implying that an earlier franchise provision had also had that same intent. It appears from Dr Keenan’s reply to the complaint that his use of the word “again” is best understood as referring to the proposed 1848 Constitution Act, which would have limited voting rights to those who could read and write English.

The Press Council thinks that if the newspaper had published a brief paragraph clarifying the factual background to Dr Keenan’s interpretation that would have sufficed to do justice to the complainant’s vigilant concern that the theoretical enfranchising of Maori in 1853 be acknowledged.

Considering the complaint as a whole, and weighing its rejection of a large part of the allegations, the Press Council thinks it would be quite disproportionate to take any formal action in regard to the failure of these two sentences to capture the full detail of the historical circumstances. It could have been adequately dealt with by the complainant submitting an entry for the well-established Corrections and Clarifications section or writing a letter for publication.

The complaint is not upheld.

Mr Jim Eagles took no part in the consideration of this adjudication.


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