DENNY THOMPSON AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3037

Council Meeting: APRIL 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories:

The Complaint

1. Denny Thompson has complained about an article published in Stuff on 30 January 2021 summed up by the headlineAuckland iwi Ngati Pāoa place rāhui around Waiheke to protect declining kaimoana.

2. Mr Thompson says that Ngati Pāoa iwi is not represented by the bodies placing the rāhui.Rather the rāhui was placed by two local Maori trust boards whose mandate is not clear. Mr Thompson also says that no hui have been held by the iwi to discuss the rāhui; that a person quoted in the article, Herearoha Skipper, has no mandate to speak for Ngati Pāoa; and the local marae is not a Ngati Pāoa marae and has no authority to represent Ngati Pāoa. The complainant also says that there is no scientific evidence to support claims of declining stocks of Waiheke kaimoana; and cites a peer reviewed scientific report which says that the foreshore and seabed at Waiheke are generally in good health, although there are there are issues with buildup of sediment and marine traffic.

3. In subsequent exchanges with Stuff, Mr Thompson also challenges various points, saying that a local politician has misguided views on Maori matters and that speaking to a “Maori” does not necessarily mean their views are representative of iwi. He also challenges as misleading various documents, scientific references, photographs and statements used in the article and subsequently cited by Stuff in its responses to Mr Thompson. Mr Thompson says the proposal for a rāhui has to go through government processes including a public consultation before a rāhui or closure of the kaimoana fishing grounds can be enforced.

4. Mr Thompson says the Stuff article breached a number of Media Council Principles: 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; 2 Comment and Fact; 6 Headlines and Captions; 9 Subterfuge; 11 Photographs and Graphics; and 12 Corrections. After Mr Thompson’s initial contact Stuff made amendments to the story to clarify that the rāhui decision was made by the two trust boards and not the iwi itself and that the boards will now launch consultation on the rāhui. Mr Thompson said that these changes and Stuff’s offer to do a follow up story including an account of the status of the two boards involved were not sufficient. The complainant expected that ‘errors and inaccuracies’ from the original article should be removed.

The Response

5. Stuff responded comprehensively to Mr Thompson’s complaints. On the scientific evidence issue, Stuff says that they have published a number of stories covering reports that kaimoana is declining in Waiheke and the Hauraki Gulf. Stuff has also covered the State of Our Gulf Report 2020 which reported on declining fish stocks, and specifically the Waiheke Marine Project supported by Ngati Pāoa.

6. On Principle 1, Stuff says the story was written following a media statement from Ngati Pāoa about the rāhui, saying it will be enforced by tohunga and kaumatua; and that the decision about the rāhui was made after a series of meetings with the Maori community and boards. Regardless of the two boards’ previous disagreements and possible lack of legal mandate, they have both agreed the rāhui should take place, so relevant references in the story are accurate. There appears to be public support for the rāhui declaration. There was no mention of the local marae in the story. The rāhui decision was supported by the Waiheke Local Board and subsequently reported on the Auckland Council website.

7. The boards have applied to the Ministry for Primary Industries for temporary closure and enforcement of the rāhui. Stuff says the two boards are some of the many parties involved in the process of consultation which will now take place. Stuff notes that Ngati Pāoa itself confirmed in its own media statement that it instigated the rāhui. The story makes it clear the rāhui is not legally enforceable.

8. On Principle 4, Comment and Fact, Stuff says that quotes from Ms Skipper are expressing her opinion as a Ngati Pāoa member, and the story does not claim she is representing all iwi. On Principle 6, the headline and captions are factually accurate. Principle 9 Subterfuge is not relevant in Stuff’s view. On Principle 11, the photographs and graphics used are appropriate to the story.

9. On Corrections, Principle 12, Stuff had a number of exchanges and discussions with Mr Thompson. Stuff offered a follow up story covering a number of issues raised, covering the standing of the boards and disagreements about their mandate to declare a rāhui.

The Decision

10. Mr Thompson’s main complaints concern what he sees as inaccurate and misleading reporting of the declaration of a rāhui on Waiheke. The report fails to clarify to his satisfaction the mandate of the Maori boards involved, the scientific evidence of kaimoana decline at Waiheke, the authority of people quoted, and the requirement for an MPI process to enforce the rāhui.

11. Stuff has made detailed response which in its view shows that there has been no breach of the Media Council Principles cited by Mr Thompson. Stuff also made changes to the story and offered a follow up story to expand on and clarify a number of issues of concern to Mr Thompson.

12. Stuff was reporting a media statement from Ngata Pāoa, with accompanying comments and information. The story would probably have benefited from more investigation of the background, of the mandate of the boards involved, and from more supporting information about the state of fisheries around Waiheke.

13. However, this story was a fairly straightforward report of a newsworthy media statement from Ngati Pāoa on 25 January announcing the rāhui. This could then have been followed with further stories if generated by subsequent developments or comments. There was no error of fact established. In particular it was correct to connect Ngati Pāoa with the rāhui declaration.

14. The Council believes there is no demonstrated breach of the Council’s Principles. The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair) Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff and Christina Tay.

Tim Watkin stood down to maintain a public member majority.

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