Case Number: 2749

Council Meeting: JANUARY 2019

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Unfair Coverage


John Hurley has complained about a December 12, 2018 New Zealand Herald article in which it is suggested there had been very different reactions to the appearance of a Maori Santa at Santa parades in Raetihi and Nelson.

The article compares the “outcry and apology” after a Maori Santa appeared in the Nelson Santa Parade, to the “outpourings of acceptance and joy” when the Raetihi Santa Parade featured a Maori woman as Santa.

Neither Santa fitted the traditional notions of Santa Claus. But while Raetihi’s Santa was a Maori woman, Aroha Williams was dressed up in the usual red Santa suit and beard.Nelson’s Santa, Rob Herewini, wore neither, appearing in a Maori Korowai, or cloak.

The article complained about is focused on the fact of them both being Maori, however, and talks to Raetihi locals about the reasons why their Maori Santa did not attract the same controversy as Nelson.

The Complaint

Mr Hurley complains that it should have been obvious to the reporter that there was a difference between a Maori woman wearing a Santa suit, “beard and all”, and the Nelson Santa wearing a Korowai, which “deviates from any known representation of the commonly accepted and expected rendition of the Father Christmas character”.

The article suggested the negative reaction was the fault of Nelsonians and implied racism as the reason, Mr Hurley said.

Quotes like “Raetihi is different” backed up that impression, he said.

The clear inference was that it was the attitudes of Nelson people that accounted for the different reactions, rather than the lack of a Santa suit.

The fact that the Nelson Santa was wearing a Korowai, rather than the traditional Santa suit, was only mentioned later in the article as a minor detail, Mr Hurley said.

The Response

The New Zealand Herald senior newsroom editor Oskar Alley responded that the article accurately reports on the respective public responses to Christmas parades held in Raetihi and Nelson.

Mr Alley noted that the Nelson parade attracted considerable media attention and became a national talking point after Mr Herewini gave an interview saying he had received a negative response, captured on video, from some members in the crowd. This had included some people shouting and even spitting at him.

Mr Alley stresses that at no stage was it suggested that everyone at the parade that day felt that way, or that the majority of the broader Nelson community was ‘racist’.

The national debate and media conversation centred on the merits of a European marketing-based Father Christmas in a red suit in the middle of our summer, versus a more New Zealand-centric version that acknowledges Māori culture, Mr Alley noted.

The Raetihi Christmas parade occurred in the midst of this debate, featuring another unorthodox take on the traditional male role – with a Māori woman appearing in a Santa suit.

The article merely noted that a non-traditional choice of Santa appeared in Raetihi and proved popular, in contrast to the debate over the Nelson event.

The article was framed by a positive experience in Raetihi, as opposed to an attempt to criticise the reaction from what appeared to be a vocal minority in Nelson, Mr Alley said.

The article was entirely factually accurate and it was a long bow to interpret positive comments about Raetihi as sweeping generalisations about Nelson, Mr Alley concluded.

The Discussion

Principle 1 of the NZ Media Council is breached where readers have been deliberately mislead or misinformed by commission or omission.

The purpose of the article complained about is to tell the story of two Santa Parades and two very different reactions in two different towns.

It is based on the premise that the common factor between the two parades was a Maori Santa but whereas Raetihi embraced this difference, Nelson did not.

There has been considerable controversy over Santa Parades in recent times, including a Richmond parade featuring a “rednek” float and Confederate flag, which has come to be symbolic of the White Supremacy movement.

The reaction to Nelson’s Maori Santa therefore generated a debate over attitudes to cultural differences.

While most of that debate was around the lack of a traditional Santa suit and the Korowai worn in its place, some of the reported comments included a reference to the desirability of Nelson’s Maori Santa “coming down the chimney”.

The overriding complaint, however, was that children were disappointed that Santa didn’t look like they expected.

The Raetihi Santa on the other hand was more in line with the traditional image of Santa because of the Red Suit and beard, though as a woman Aroha Williams also did not fit the “norm”.

The crux of Mr Hurley’s complaint is that it was these differences in clothing, not the fact of both Santa’s being Maori that explained the different reactions.

The Media Council accepts that the Herald could have made more of the fact that Nelson’s Maori Santa was controversial largely because the Korowai that replaced the traditional Santa suit was not what locals were used to in a Santa parade.

However, Mr Hurley goes further and appears to argue that the fact Santa was also Maori was irrelevant.

In our view, it is impossible to separate the two given the importance of the Korowai in Maori culture and tradition. It was also a clear statement of cultural identity and it is this that made the Nelson Santa unique and something the float organisers clearly expected to be celebrated.

In fact it provoked a very different reaction - the Nelson Santa reported being booed and spat at, and referred to comments about the desirability of him coming down the chimney. It was this which gave rise to questions around racism.

This could have been explored further by the NZ Herald and the article would have lost nothing by making more of the difference in the way the two Santa’s were dressed and questioning whether this was the sole reason for the different reactions - or whether something deeper was at play.

However this omission was not significant enough to warrant a finding of a breach of Principle 1.

The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown,

Jo Cribb, Peter Fa’afiu, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay, Tracy Watkins and Tim Watkin.


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