DAVE CARROLL AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2769

Council Meeting: APRIL 2019

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Children and Young People
Discrimination
Editorial Discretion
Offensive Language

Overview

A complaint against the New Zealand Herald for reporting on and reproducing a Facebook video about racism posted by former Blues and Samoa rugby player Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu. The complaint was not upheld.

Background

The Herald ran a video on January 17, 2019 reproduced from the Facebook page of lawyer and former rugby star Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu in which he expressed strong views on the subject of racism.

It also ran an article about the video under the headline Rugby: Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu says All Blacks’ identity ‘stolen’ in video about Maori culture.

The article said Mr Fuimaono-Sapolu “posted a thoughtful yet expletive-laden video on his Facebook page in reaction to ‘ignorant’ comments about Maori.”

“In the video, which has been viewed more than 180,000 times, he attempts to provide a counter-narrative to what he says is a common sentiment among New Zealanders.”

The article reported Fuimaono-Sapolu’s view that Maori grievances were valid, that no other race or culture had been targeted deliberately by the New Zealand government like Maori had and that laws were passed to exterminate Maori culture and seize Maori land.

It also reported his comment that the All Blacks identity had been “stolen from Maori culture” by doing the haka, that people needed to listen to and try to understand Maori, and that Aotearoa is Maori country.

“If you don’t f***ing like it, then you can f*** back to Europe. You South Africans can f*** off back to Europe, Asians go back to Asia and Indians go back to India. It’s stupid, you’re whining about whining, if you don’t understand what the problem is and you don’t understand the reasons behind historical grievance, then you’re the f***ing problem.

The Complaint

Dave Carroll complained that the Herald had provided “a platform for racist extremists to propel their vile, hate-infected diatribe at the wider, peaceful community.”

By selective editing of the video transcript it was also promoting and highlighting such views.

The Herald had allowed “a verbally abusive racist to broadcast racially abusive views to the wider public”.

He believed the Herald had breached Media Council principles 3 (children and young people) and 7 (discrimination and diversity).

He described the comment by Mr Fuimaono-Sapulo as hate speech and that publication was detrimental to New Zealand society and not supportive of harmonious racial and cultural relations.

He also took issue with the Herald’s description of Mr Fuimaona-Sapolu’s comment as being thoughtful, adding “I suppose Mein Kampf could have been deemed as thoughtful by some racist apologist.”

The Response

NZME head of sport Eduan Roos said this was clearly a news report and all the quotes were attributed to Mr Fuimaono-Sapolu. The newsworthiness of a prominent sporting figure making strong political comment was beyond debate.

Mr Fuimaono-Sapolu was entitled to his opinion and “we will continue to publish a wide range of voices, even the ones we don’t necessarily agree with.”

He was not the first sportsperson to make statements that could be considered controversial. Recent examples included Israel Folau’s views on homosexuality, Serena Williams’ accusations of sexism aimed at a US Open chair umpire and Sonny Bill Williams’ covering up of sponsors’ logos on his Blue jersey for religious reasons.

While a number of people did not agree with his views and some might even have found them offensive, others lauded Fuimaono-Sapolu for what they believed to be a righteous cause.

Mr Roos defended the use of the word “thoughtful” to describe Mr Fuimaono-Sapolu's comments.

The Decision

As the Media Council has always maintained there is no more important principle in democracy than freedom of expression. This is underwritten by The Bill of Rights Act 1990 which says everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.

Mr Fuimaona-Sapolu was exercising his rights when he published his strongly-expressed views on Facebook.

The Herald was also exercising its rights, when it picked up on what it considered to be newsworthy comment by a well-known sportsman, by republishing the video and reporting it in a news story.

Mr Carroll has not advanced any claim as to how the Herald may have breached Media Council Principle 3 (relating to children and young people) and there is no indication as to how this principle might be applied here. The complaint on these grounds is not upheld.

Media Council Principle 7 (discrimination and diversity) states that “Issues of gender, religion minority groups, sexual orientation, age, race, colour or physical or mental disability are legitimate subjects for discussion where they are relevant and in the public interest and publications may report and express opinions in these areas. Publications should not, however, place gratuitous emphasis on any such category in their reporting.”

In short, race is a legitimate subject for discussion and publications may report opinions on this subject provided they are relevant and in the public interest.

Mr Fuimaono-Sapolu is a person of some standing and his views were regarded by theHerald as being relevant and in the public interest.

Mr Carroll believed the views expressed were hate speech and that publication was detrimental to New Zealand society and not supportive of harmonious racial and cultural relations.

Although the Media Council has in the past upheld complaints relating to gratuitous reference to race, there are no specific provisions in its principles relating to hate speech.

In any case it is hard to see how a case could be made here. Hate speech is generally defined as speech that attacks a person or groups of people on the basis of race, religion etc. and it would appear Mr Fuimaona-Sapolu’s comments were a defence of Maori rather than an attack on any other racial group.

The Media Council notes the Government has ordered a review of laws relating to hate speech following the recent Christchurch terror attacks. However, the most relevant provision at present is spelt out in The Human Rights Act 1993 which says it is an offense to use or publish threatening, abusive or insulting words that are likely to excite hostility or bring into contempt any group on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origin.

However, the Act specifically excludes the news media from being in breach of the law provided the words used by any person are accurately reported.

Mr Carroll says he was offended by Mr Fuimaona-Sapolu’s comments and the Herald’s reportage of them. The media often report events and comments that upset people and that is inevitable if news is to reflect what’s happening in a troubled world.

Editors, however, have ultimate responsibility for what appears in their publications and it is over to them to make prudent judgments as to what readers will find acceptable or what might offend their sensibilities.

As the Media Council has often noted, people do not have a right not to be offended. Nevertheless, publications usually go to some lengths to avoid offending readers unnecessarily by omitting overly-graphic content. In this context we note theHerald used asterisks to blunt the use of obscenities in its written report of Mr Fuimaona-Sapolu’s comments but it did not bleep those same words from the re-posting of the video as other media organisations elected to do. It did however place a “strong language” warning immediately above the click-through to the video.

The complaint under Principle 7 is not upheld.

As to whether Mr Fuimaona-Sapolu’s comments were “thoughtful” that was the Herald’s subjective description. It is a matter for debate. Nothing really turns on it and it is not an issue the Media Council needs to adjudicate on.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Jenny Farrell, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.