Case Number: 2772

Council Meeting: APRIL 2017

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Columnists

The Complaint

[1]This complaint arises from events that occurred after the tragic fatal shootings at two mosques in Christchurch.Following those events there was a significant amount of publicity of well-known gangs having a high-visibility presence at cordons and vigils associated with the tragic events.Denis O’Reilly, a life member of the Black Power gang, takes issue with an opinion piece published by Mike Yardley inThe Press on 26 March 2019.The effect of this opinion piece is to state that, while he accepts the genuineness of the empathy, sorrow and grief expressed by the gangs, their overall criminality has not changed.

[2] The piece is clearly headed ‘Opinion’.The author questioned whether it was incongruous for the perpetrators of what he described as “so much everyday evil” to down tools for “touchy-feely time-out”.He considers the TV media in particular have fawned over gangs gathering outside mosques to perform haka and pay their respects and offer protection.He goes on to say that despite these expressions, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that gangland was suddenly converting “into a pack of peaceniks”.He notes, and gives statistics for, the disproportionate number of firearms charges faced by gang members.The author goes on to say that, if the gangs wish society to believe they are renouncing violence and organised crime, a first step would be surrendering their arsenal of firearms.The particular passage complained of by Mr O’Reilly states:

The tanks need to be turned on the gangs. They are the ones who terrorise and corrode our communities on a daily basis, unleashing their violence, trading on fear and intimidation, committing crime at will, peddling their drugs and destroying lives, while armed to the teeth.

[3] Mr O’Reilly complains that the terminology “The tanks need to be turned on the gangs” is hate speech.In his complaint, he asked rhetorically:

I'm a gang member.Is this man saying that a tank barrel should be aimed at me and mine?My children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the line of fire?Are they acceptable collateral damage?

[4] He goes on to say that the time has come to stand up against this hate speech.He complains that the Council principles of Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Comment and Fact, and Discrimination and Diversity have all been breached.

The Response

[5] The editor points out that the column is clearly labelled ‘Opinion’, and that the views expressed are those of the author.She points out that Mr O’Reilly fails to be specific in his claim of “hate speech”, nor is she specific in relation to the alleged breaches of the principles.She further points out that the opinion piece was followed up by a feature-length article by Carmen Parahi and Florence Kerr examining some of the points made in the column about the ownership of guns by gang members.Both Mr O’Reilly and another leader of the gang world were interviewed for the feature, and in it they both said that the gangs had some guns, some illegal, and neither would concede the gangs should hand those weapons in after the Christchurch shootings.

[6] The editor further argues that Mr Yardley’s views are based on facts, and these were accepted by Mr O’Reilly in the follow-up feature.She said the use of the terminology “The tanks need to be turned on the gangs” is clearly a metaphor, and was not being suggested literally.

[7] She finally states that there is no reference in the column to gender, religion, minority groups, sexual orientation, age, race, colour, or physical or mental disability, so it is impossible to understand what is meant by discrimination and diversity.

The Discussion

[8] The piece is clearly labelled ‘Opinion’.The Council has said a number of times previously that readers do not have the right to be offended.

[9] The views put forward by the author are based on facts relating to the disproportionate number of gang members that appear before the courts on firearms charges. While the author accepted the sincerity of gang members in the circumstances, any regular reader or consumer of court news in New Zealand would be well aware that gang members continue to be involved in a wide range of serious crimes, including drugs and crimes of violence. There is a clear factual background for the views expressed in this opinion piece.

[10] We accept the reference to the tank is not literal, but is a metaphor.In an opinion piece there is nothing objectionable about this.

[11] This opinion piece is far removed from hate speech.It is an opinion piece, properly based upon facts.The complaint is not upheld.

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

Craig Cooper took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


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