Case Number: 2554

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2016

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Headlines and Captions
Unfair Coverage


  • Chris Lee has complained that a story published online by Stuff titled “Jock Phillips comments condemning Rangiaowhia battle not unbalanced, BSA finds” on 28 October 2016 breaches Principles 1 (accuracy fairness and balance) and 6 (headlines).
  • The Stuff story reported a Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) decision in relation to a complaint brought by Mr Lee againstThe Nation and Newshub television programmes. The programmes involved a report on the question as to whether “colonial figures were still worthy of commemoration.” The television programmes included remarks from a Dr Jock Phillips who had commented particularly in relation to the actions of a Colonel Nixon, Nixon having allegedly participated in the killing of Maori women and children at Rangiaowhia in 1864. Dr Phillips maintained Col. Nixon should not continue to be celebrated given his role in the event (especially via a statue still standing in Auckland).
  • Mr Lee, in his complaint to the BSA, disputed the accuracy of Dr Phillips’ comments. Mr Lee claims that the comments were not balanced, as differing views were not expressed. There was, according to Mr Lee, no basis for Dr Phillips to describe the events in the Waikato village as “an appalling act of genocide” and a “terrible atrocity. Mr Lee had provided the BSA with his interpretation of what happened there, an interpretation which differed markedly from the views expressed by Dr Phillips.
  • The BSA declined to uphold the complaint. The BSA found that Dr Phillips’ comments did not have to be countered by balancing opinions, the matter not being a ‘controversial issue of public importance.’ Dr Phillip’s statements amounted to “judgement or opinion”. The BSA found that the programme content did not breach the applicable broadcasting standards.

The Complaint

  • Mr Lee’s complaint to the Press Council broadly mirrors his complaint to the BSA. He says theStuff story’s headline was inaccurate and the story itself wrong and misleading Further Mr Lee says that theStuff story failed to deal with “some very significant issues at stake….. with regard to how our history is reported”. Mr Lee has referred toStuff’s failure to address certain “philosophical issues” relating to historical interpretation.

The Response

  • Stuff denies Mr Lee’s complaints. Stuff refers to the BSA decision along with the media release accompanying the decision.Stuff says that the BSA contacted it shortly after the story was published seeking corrections, a request which was promptly complied with.

The Discussion

  • The Press Council does not agree with Mr Lee. Firstly, it accepts Stuff’s point that it was simply reporting the BSA decision. It did not attempt to explore the interpretation of history by either Mr Phillips or Mr Lee. While Principle 1 differs from the equivalent broadcasting standard the basic element is the same. Dr Phillips’s comments were an undoubted expression of opinion. Principles 4 and 5 apply.
  • In saying this however, the Council makes one other observation. Strictly the headline is incorrect. It is not right to say Dr Phillips comments were “not unbalanced.” Dr Phillips had expressed a definite, one sided, opinion as to the events at Rangiaowhia in the broadcasts. The balance requirement referred to the segment of the programme, not Mr Phillips comments in particular. The BSA found there was no need for opposing views to be presented in this instance as the threshold of ‘controversial issue of public importance’ had not been reached
  • The Press Council notes that headlines of necessity must provide a shorthand version of the story. While a strictly correct headline would have readJock Phillips comments condemning Rangiaowhia battle did not require balance, BSA finds it doubts that readers would have been misled as to the findings of the BSA by the headline.
  • The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens and Vernon Small.


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