Case Number: 2806

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2019

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Māori Television

Ruling Categories: Accuracy


On 1 April 2019, Māori Television published an on-line article titled ‘The Battle of Ōrākau – confronting New Zealand’s past’. The article states that it is 155 years since the battle of Ōrākau where people from a number of iwi tried to stop the government’s militia from taking more land from Māori land owners.

The article quotes New Zealand Land Wars expert Paraone Gloyne in saying that New Zealanders want to forget the wars, but that what happened including the burning of women and children alive in a church are an important part of the narrative of Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Apakura. Gloyne is further quoted in calling for the Land Wars to be taught as part of school curricula.

The article concludes by stating that the Ōrākau battle site was purchased by the Crown with plans to build a memorial and school children presented a petition to parliament calling for a national day of remembrance for the Land Wars as well as this subject to be included in school curricula.

The Complaint

Chris Lee complains that the article breaches the Media Council Principle 1: Accuracy. He states that Maori Television have given Paraone Gloyne a platform “to advance a demonstrably false claim”. Lee argues that there is no evidence that the during attack on Rangiaowhia in 1864 that old people, women and children were locked in a church and burnt to death.

He states that Māori oral history is not accurate as there were several well educated Māori who could have recorded the church burning but did not. Lee states four examples of those who were involved in the Rangiaowhia attack but did not mention the church burning.

Lee then continues to state further evidence that he contends shows the church burning did not occur including paintings that show churches and advertisements for church services in 1879.

Lee concludes by stating that “it is time the matter was put to rest and Māori Television stopped perpetuating a lie”.

The Response

Vienna Richards responds for Māori Television. She states that Maori Television considers that there were no material errors of fact and the story does not mislead. The oral history belongs to the ancestors and descendants of the iwi, hapū and whānau who were at Rangiaowhia. Paraone Gloyne is a respected iwi authority and historian on the battle of Ōrākau.

Richards continues to state that the massacre is acknowledged within Māoridom and has been covered by Māori media over many years. However, it is a harrowing and distressing history seldom told outside of te ao Māori. The story concludes by called for this to be taught in schools so people know what happened to preserve ancestral iwi and hapū oral history.

The Discussion

The issue of the facts surrounding the church burning at Rangiaowhia has been considered a number of times by both the New Zealand Media Council and the Broadcasting Standards Authority. In Lee and Radio New Zealand 2017, Lee complained that in a news item about the history of Rangiaowhia that the RNZ coverage of the attack contained ‘unsubstantiated and demonstrably false claims’ as women and children were not hiding in the church as it burnt as the news item claimed. While RNZ accepted that there are contested facts around the Rangiaowhia invasion, the article presented the views of an expert and focused on the status of a monument and did not purport to be a detailed examination of the historical events. The BSA agreed.

Likewise, in Lee and Mediaworks TV Ltd 2016, Lee complains about an episode of the Nation that discussed whether colonial figures where still worthy of commemoration. The episode included excerpts from Dr Jock Phillips who described Colonel Nixon’s involvement in the events that occurred at Rangiaowhia as “an appalling act of genocide” and “a terrible atrocity”. Lee complained that these statements were inaccurate and lacked balance. The BSA ruled that the statements were those of a prominent historian, were not central to the subject of the episode and viewers would not have been left misinformed as a result.

Following the publication of the BSA decision, Lee complained to the Media Council (Chris Lee against Stuff 2016) about an article that outlined the BSA’s findings. His complaint mirrors that to the BSA. The Media Council did not uphold the complaint stating that the comments in question from Dr Phillips were his undoubted expression of opinion and not material to the content of the article.

This complaint has similar characteristics. The statements in question are quotes from a respected historian and expert and are not central to the article which focuses more on how the history of the Land Wars has been forgotten and needs now to be included in school curricula. It is, therefore, the Media Council’s view that the article does not attempt to deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission.

The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tracy Watkins.

Tim Watkin took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


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