ARAPETA TAHANA AGAINST THE DAILY POSTOver a period of days starting on June 13, 2005, The Daily Post ran a series of stories and readers’ letters concerning a controversy over the calling of a hui to discuss the possible introduction of Maori wards for the Rotorua District Council. Mr Arapeta Tahana, who was originally nominated by the Council to facilitate the hui, complained to the Press Council about the substance of the reports.
Subsequent correspondence between the newspaper and Mr Tahana and the offer of the publication of more material satisfied the majority of Mr Tahana’s objections. But one complaint remains unresolved.
On June 20 on a readers’ letters page the Post published a picture of Mr Tahana and three people who had been embroiled in the controversy, Councillors Glenys Searancke and Mike McVicker and Mr Hamuera Mitchell, a member of the Rotorua District Council Te Arawa Standing Committee.
Mr Tahana complains that the publication of his picture in this way suggests he has expressed a view in support of the Maori wards.
The Daily Post maintains the photograph was used because Mr Tahana was one of the principal figures in the original controversy and that the readers’ letters had mentioned him and the other three individuals. It suggests that there was no implication that Mr Tahana was an advocate of a particular view.
It is clear from the reports and from the correspondence that this is a divisive issue in the community. The first batch of correspondence published by the Post on the wards and the proposed hui carried the heading “Maori versus non-Maori.” This reflected a polarisation both in the public positions and the readers' letters which displayed a commitment to one or another of a set of opposing views.
This was the background against which the disputed picture was run on June 20. Councillors McVicker and Searancke had been established as partisan on one side and Mr Mitchell on the other. In these circumstances the layout of the illustration with the pictures of Councillors McVicker and Searancke on one side of a reprint of the original story, and Mr Mitchell and Mr Tahana on the other, could have contributed to an immediate impression that Mr Tahana is a supporter of a particular view.
But the Council has consistently held the view that reports must be taken as a whole. Newspapers do regularly use photographs of individuals in the body of text without the placement carrying any particular significance.
None of the stories or letters attributes any partisan view to Mr Tahana and for this reason the complaint is not upheld.
Neverthless The Post did have the opportunity to correct even the hint of such an impression by recording Mr Tahana’s unequivocal statement that he had never expressed any view on the Maori ward question. Given that the newspaper had been willing to meet the bulk of Mr Tahana’s objections it is unfortunate that it did not take one further step.
The complaint is not upheld.