Case Number: 3023

Council Meeting: APRIL 2021

Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Headlines and Captions


On 9 March 2021 the New Zealand Herald published a story headlined Cops’ pain use ‘racist’. It reported figures released to the Herald under the Official Information Act, which showed that Māori, who make up 16.5 percent of the population and 42 percent of people charged with an offence, were subjected to painful force at a higher rate than other offenders, making up 49 percent of such cases.

People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA) spokeswoman Emilie Rākete said that the use of pain against Māori was racist. The story also said: “Police bosses are rejecting the racism accusation, insisting that while officers often deal with violent or disturbed offenders, force is always a last resort and everyone interacting with police should be treated with respect.” Deputy police commissioner: iwi and community, Wally Haumaha, was quoted as saying: "We don't have all the answers as to why Māori continue to be over-represented in the justice system.”

Cliff Hall complained about the story, saying that with such an emotive, sensitive issue as racism, “I think you have a responsibility to be more careful in your reporting.” The headline was overly sensational, he said. Emilie Rākete’s statement that police tend to use pain with Maori at up to six times the rate of other ethnicities was unsubstantiated.

The Herald replied that they were comfortable with the story and would not print a correction.

The Media Council notes that the claims of racism were made by Ms Rākete, they were her opinion and one she is entitled to express. The headline was also clearly opinion, with the word ‘racist’ in inverted commas, a common practice to indicate that what is said is a quote or claim. There is balancing comment from the police, and it is worth noting that Mr Haumaha’s comment about police not having all the answers to why Maori are over-represented in the justice system does not dispute the claim of racism.

No Principles have been breached.

Finding: Insufficient Grounds to Proceed.