DOROTHY BAULD AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALDIntroduction
Dorothy Bauld claimed The New Zealand Herald breached Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) in relation to its Waitangi Day coverage on February 6 2014, because of its editorial decision to publish a “protest-free” paper, which it announced with a “Protest-Free News Pages” stamp featuring a graphic of a raised fist on the front page, and on its retail poster which stated: “This paper is free of protests”.
The complaint is not upheld.
The New Zealand Herald’s February 6 print edition ran a large front-page ‘pointer’ to its Waitangi Day coverage inside, featuring photographs of four ethnically diverse New Zealanders under the headline: “Celebrating NZ’s Day”, with the subhead: “Waitangi: What it means to you - A16-19”. A graphic of a raised fist, encircled by the words “Protest-Free News Pages”, was stamped on the top right-hand corner of the page alongside the headline.
Pages A16-19 featured a Waitangi Day “Special Report” coverage in the form of interviews with eight New Zealanders, four of whom were pictured on the front-page pointer, about what Waitangi Day means to them personally. The interviewees represented a broad range of ages and ethnicities; two were Maori. Although not flagged on the front page, page A7 featured photographs and interviews with visitors to Waitangi's Te Tii Marae the day before.
Pages A48 and 49 featured three stories on Waitangi Day, including a historical backgrounder, and opinion pieces by Attorney General and Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Chris Finlayson, and Mana Party leader Hone Harawira.
The paper’s Editorial discussed, among other things, the progress of the Treaty negotiations.
The retail poster published on February 6 to promote the paper’s Waitangi Day coverage carried a banner headline which stated: “This paper is free of protests”.
Ms Bauld claimed The New Zealand Herald breached Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance). She complained that the paper’s February 6 “Headline and Editorial Decision lacked good editorial responsibility, was not of a high standard, was not fair, deliberately avoided balance and public faith in good standards, and was not in New Zealand’s best interests”.
She described the raised-fist stamp on the front page as an “unsuitable accompanying graphic”.
She said the need for the press to maintain high standards of accuracy, fairness and balance was particularly relevant on Waitangi Day: “That is especially so on our national day. Both celebration and protest should be part of our democracy.”
In her opinion, “These editorial decisions were not fair, were not in the public interest, and deserve an apology. Freedom of expression needs to be balanced by public interest”.
In further correspondence, she stated: “My complaint is as much against the use of censorship as a marketing ploy.”
The New Zealand Herald’s editor, Shayne Currie denied there was any breach of the Press Council’s principles.
Mr Currie defended the decision to promote the edition’s “Protest-Free News Pages”, saying he had chosen to ignore a small group of protesters who “try to hijack Waitangi Day each year with their headline-grabbing antics that target politicians and others”.
He described the decision as the paper’s “own protest” at other media’s focus on protests.
He pointed out that the complainant had ignored the large front-page pointer to the Waitangi Day coverage, and had not mentioned that the paper ran seven pages of debate and discussion on Waitangi Day.
In his opinion, “the debate was covered in a fair, balanced and extensive manner, precisely the principles the complainant is requesting”.
He rebutted the complainant’s position on freedom of expression, asserting that it works in all directions: “It is our right to decide what we do and don’t publish, just as it is the reader’s right to take issue with the decision.”
Mr Currie said that in the days following Waitangi Day, the paper had published correspondence and “received considerable online feedback on our stance”. He said Ms Bauld’s email complaining about the Waitangi Day coverage had not been received by the newspaper until March 12 because it had been sent to an incorrect address.
Had he received the email earlier, he said, he would have suggested the complainant write a letter to the editor that would have been considered for publication, but that too much time had passed since the Waitangi Day coverage.
He disagreed that the fist graphic was unsuitable and said it was simply a protest symbol which the paper has used before.
Discussion and Decision
The Herald’s decision to publish a “protest-free” paper on Waitangi Day was a controversial one given the paper’s standing as a national newspaper. Although the editorial decision to ignore the “headline-grabbing antics” of protestors who hijack the annual Waitangi Day celebrations is the basis of the complaint, much of the debate focused on the meaning and relevance of the raised-fist graphic on the front page.
The use of the term “protest-free” as a catch-all descriptor also polarised opinion, since the whole point of democratic protest is to give voice to those who feel marginalised. Whether intentional or not, the paper’s stance and the raised-fist graphic implied that the Maori viewpoint had been suppressed since Waitangi Day protests historically have focused on Maori grievances, but the reality was that the coverage inside was extremely balanced and fair.
The other important debate concerns the right of editors to make editorial decisions about what they do and don’t publish. The Press Council clearly states that publications have the right “to adopt a forthright stance or to advocate on any issue“.
The February 6 print edition of the Herald carried more than seven pages of Waitangi Day coverage, which was a comprehensive examination of what Waitangi Day means to a range of New Zealanders. In light of this, the “protest-free” raised-fist stamp on the front page does not accurately reflect the nuance and breadth of the content inside the paper, and can be discounted as a marketing gimmick.
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, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Stephen Stewart.
John Roughan withdrew and took no part in the consideration of this complaint.