FRANCES ADANK AGAINST THE PRESS

Case Number: 577

Council Meeting: JUNE 1995

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

The Press Council has rejected a complaint made by Ms Frances Adank about an article by Agnes-Mary Brooke which appeared in The Press on 8 March. The article, a vigorous and strongly worded criticism of Maori activism, argued that Maori have received generous subsidies and that this should be taken into account when assessing reparations for grievances. The writer offered as an example the provision of free school uniforms to children whose Maori ancestry was tenuous and who were asked to provide no evidence of it. The article was followed by the publication of a considerable number of letters to the editor, both supporting and attacking it, including two from Ms Adank.

Ms Adank complained to the Press Council that this reference to free school uniforms was merely anecdote, not fact, and that it should have been checked; she sought a retraction or a contrary opinion from a Maori spokesperson.

The editor of The Press defended the article as an expression of vigorous, but not bigoted, opinion by a reputable commentator and said the paper encouraged lively debate. He pointed out that the main argument of the article was based on verified fact - that special subsidies were paid to Maori - and that the reference to free school uniforms was only a minor part of that argument. He said that the paper was not able to check every fact printed. In his letter to the Press Council he also included material from Agnes-Mary Brooke and from Mr John Bateman which suggested a factual basis for the claim about free uniforms.

The Council thought that while the article was a very strong expression of a controversial opinion on a major issue of race relations, its publication did not infringe acceptable standards. The paper had every right to encourage lively discussion on such a topic; it had printed a number of letters in response including two from the complainant in which her views about the school uniform issue were stated. On the evidence provided it appeared that the facts about this question were open to dispute. The Council did not uphold the complaint.