JOHN GAMBY AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALDThe Press Council has not upheld several complaints by John Gamby of Thames about the New Zealand Herald's coverage of a speech by the Associate Minister of Maori Affair, Tariana Turia, to the New Zealand Psychological Society Annual Conference, and the subsequent debate.
Ms Turia's use of the word "holocaust", to describe the impact of European settlement on Maori, raised a storm and was a top news story. The Herald gave it a good deal of space over several days, as did other media on a national basis.
The complainant, Mr Gamby is a practising psychologist and was present at the conference when the speech was delivered. He contended that a front page report by the the Herald 's political
reporter on 30 August 2000 had unduly played up only a small part of Ms Turia's speech with the result that her main theme about the psychological effects of colonisation had been lost. The story contained "inaccuracies, tendentious emphases and at least one gratuitous speculation". Ms Turia's
claim that she had been guided by her kai tiaki had been presented in a manner "gratuitously offensive to Maori spiritual values".
There had been extensive correspondence to the Editor on the issues, but this had been abruptly cut short, which the complainant said, suggested an attempt to "further entrench a misleading public impression of the speech." Subsequent coverage of the Prime Minister's concerns over the Minister's choice of words had created a "side issue".
The Press Council saw the issues in a different light. A political reporter must, by definition, focus on the wider political context. The report in question did that. The Council could not fault it. There is no obligation on a newspaper to give extensive and rounded coverage of ministerial speeches. A newspaper's responsibility is to present the news. When a Minister of the Crown describes New Zealand history , with a word so heavily freighted with meaning as "holocaust", it is not only eminently newsworthy but cause for analysis and extrapolation beyond the immediate themes of the speech.
Mr Gamby suggested that fact had been confused with comment. But, as the Press Council has noted in the preamble to its Statement of Principles, "rigorous analysis…is the hallmark of good journalism".
There could be no question about the public interest in the "holocaust" story as evidenced by the report by the editor that the total of letters received "would rank among the top two or three volumes in Herald history". Freedom of expression demanded that the significance of the Minister's remarks be examined in terms of contemporary political affairs. The same considerations applied to the follow-up stories about the Minister's interactions with the Prime Minister in the aftermath of the speech. In the view of the Press Council these were not "side issues" but
central to the concerns of government.
Accordingly the reports served the vital interest of ensuring that the public is informed on the issues of the day. The Council noted that the paper had printed a broad analysis of the speech on 31 August - which Mr Gamby had agreed "was balanced treatment and did place the report in context" - and had also published an opinion piece which further expanded on the concerns of Maori. Having provided a forum for publication of a large number of letters to the editor on the issues there was nothing untoward in the editor's decision to move on to other topics in the correspondence columns. Finally, the Council found that an editorial in the Weekend Herald on 9/10 September (to which M Gamby appeared to take exception) on the importance of words and the association they carry, was a helpful - if wry - reminder of the need for precision in
The complaint is not upheld.
Audrey Young, political reporter for the New Zealand Herald is a member of the Press Council. She was not present at the meeting when the complaint was considered.