Case Number: 3350

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2022

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact


The New Zealand Herald published an article on October 14, 2022, headlined: Illegal tree planning damages Owairaka Mt Albert site, Tupuna Maunga Authority rules.

This article - and similar stories published by Stuff, TVNZ and RNZ - were based on an Auckland City Council media release issued on behalf of the authority.

The release stated approximately 27 trees had been planted illegally into a sacred archaeological area of Owairaka/ Mt Albert, disturbing archaeological material and causing significant irreversible damage to the maunga. It also said the disturbed area was previously unmodified, meaning it was in the original form of the maunga dating back nearly 1000 years to a preserved historic pa settlement.

Graeme Leo said it was not correct to say there had been significant and irreversible damage to a sacred archaeological site dating back 1000 years.  He said Owairaka/Mt Albert had been quarried until 1928 and subsequent plantings of eucalyptus trees covered a substantial part of it. Erosion damage was also caused by cattle roaming the maunga through the 1950s and 60s.

He said it was untrue to say the site was in its original form dating back nearly 1000 years. The authority’s statement was false and was made to reinforce the narrative that protesters had made illegal plantings and to smear legitimate public protest.

Mr Leo complained the media had published fake news and had not checked the veracity of what it published.

In a response on behalf of its Editor, Murray Kirkness, the NZ Herald said any challenge to the accuracy of the statements made in the release should be taken up with the Auckland City Council.

Stuff Auckland editor Simon Plumb said while it was well known that the maunga had been the site of quarrying and other modification, this situation involved a previously unmodified part of the maunga. He said he was comfortable with the accuracy of the reporting.

In his complaint to RNZ, Mr Leo said his investigation of evidence showed the pa settlement could not have been damaged by illegal tree planting.

RNZ Complaints Coordinator George Bignell said the focus of the article was on the unauthorised planting of trees on the maunga and the consequences of that. Whether or not the maunga was in its original form did not derogate from what the Tupuna Maunga Authority indicated were the consequences of that unauthorised planting.

TVNZ invited Mr Leo to make a formal complaint if he wished.

In considering this complaint the Media Council needs to first set out that its role is to consider complaints against the media and whether they have breached ethical principles. It is not a body for determining matters of historical or political argument.

Mr Leo has made assertions about the history of Owaikara/Mt Albert to support his claim that false statements had been made and that the media had published fake news.

Mr Leo’s opinions do not advance a claim that key points in these stories were factually wrong – namely that trees had been planted illegally and that the disturbance of archaeological material had caused significant irreparable damages as reported by the Tupuna Maunga Authority.

No inaccuracy has been established and there is nothing to support a claim that Media Council principles have been breached. There were insufficient grounds to proceed. 

There were insufficient grounds to proceed.


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