ROBIN GRIEVE AGAINST THE NZ HERALD
Case Number: 3470
Council Meeting: December 2023
Decision: Not Upheld
Publication: New Zealand Herald
Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Te Reo and reporting on Te Ao Maori
- The NZ Herald published a story on 19 August 2023 headlined Election 2023: Labour’s Māori MPs in “fight of our lives” as day of campaigning sees protests. Robin Grieve complained one sentence in the lengthy article is inaccurate and breaches Media Council Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. The complaint is not upheld.
- The story was a news commentary on the Labour Party’s Māori campaign launch. It included reference to a protest-disrupted visit to the Otara market by Chris Hipkins, who was prime minister at the time and reported other key points in the campaign, Labour’s Māori agenda and a brief breakdown of its candidates’ prospects in the seven Māori seats.
- The article also referenced the Stop Co-governance tour organised by former NZ First candidate Julian Batchelor.
- Mr Grieve complained about a sentence in the story which read “This comes amid anti-co governance rallies across the country with at times clear racist rhetoric towards Māori.” He said the statement was unsubstantiated. The story did not provide examples of alleged racist statements made during the anti-co governance meetings. The statement should be backed up, withdrawn with an apology, or attributed to the author of the article. He also said the NZ Herald had played a role in inciting racial tensions by publishing an unsubstantiated statement.
- It was “ridiculous” for the NZ Herald to claim that the statement was factual “because media reports of the opinions of some said so.”
- Saying something is true based on media reports ignores the imbalance of the coverage.
- “The views of the few radicals have been given prominence while that of the thousands who have attended the meetings have been ignored.”
- Mr Grieve also suggested that the NZ Herald may be prevented from allowing views on the Treaty of Waitangi contrary to the Government’s, a claim that was summarily dismissed by the NZ Herald.
- Mr Grieve said the reporter should have attended one of the Stop Co-governance meetings to form his “opinion”.
- The NZ Herald said the article was a news report of that day’s Labour Party Māori campaign launch, as part of the general election. Labour leader Chris Hipkins addressed a number of campaign issues, including the political and social debate over co-governance. Mr Hipkins told the crowd “We have been unapologetically committed to an approach that is about by Māori, for Māori and with Māori.”
- As “relevant context” the reporter added a paragraph stating, “This comes amid anti co-governance rallies across the country with at times clear racist rhetoric towards Māori.”
- That was not the reporter’s personal opinion, but a statement of fact based on a series of media articles outlining the experiences of those who had attended the meetings against co-governance.
- The NZ Herald stood by its description of “racist rhetoric that has been used at meetings hosted by Mr Batchelor.”
- The article did not reference the reporter’s opinion, it summarised the widely held belief of many critics who had attended meetings. There were media accounts of people who attended or protested at meetings who complained variously about “utter blatant racism” and the spread of disinformation about Te Ao Māori.
- Mr Batchelor himself had publicly stated that teaching children to speak Te Reo Māori was child abuse and likened the phrase “kia ora” to “heil Hitler”.
- His rallies were co-organised by right-wing white nationalist and self-described “racist” Chris McCabe and neo-Nazi Kyle Chapman. Mr McCabe has stated to media “Of course I’m a racist, but what does that even mean?”
- Mr Batchelor’s Stop Co-Governance booklet had been described as “racist” and “rubbish” and sparked a complaint to the Electoral Commission and police.
- Dr Sanjana Hattotuwa, an academic researcher with the Disinformation Project, has used the phrase “racist rhetoric” to explain Mr Batchelor’s “dangerous speech”.
- The articles are a small example of the controversy Mr Batchelor’s nationwide rallies have produced and the story summarised this context in one paragraph.
- The focus of the article was entirely on Labour’s Māori campaign launch. The paragraph Mr Grieve complains about is the 14th paragraph in the article, which is an accurate description of the reaction to the conduct of rallies organised by Julian Batchelor.
- The Media Council recently endorsed the media’s freedom to choose how it describes people. Describing Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull as “anti-trans” was ruled acceptable as it was based on statements she had made publicly. “In this case the meetings organised by Julian Batchelor have featured what can accurately be described as racist rhetoric (and these meetings have been widely criticised for this).”
- Mr Grieve was free to believe that the Stop Co-governance meetings had not met the threshold of racist rhetoric, “however Mr Grieve was not the final arbiter on this matter and his opinion is at odds with a considerable number of people who have attended Mr Batchelor’s rallies.”
- The NZ Herald notes in its correspondence with Mr Grieve that Julian Batchelor is not specifically mentioned in the story. For clarity, the Media Council accepts that the “anti co-governence rallies” referred to in the story are likely those organised by Mr Batchelor.
- The complaint, made under Principle (1) turns on a single sentence in a lengthy piece of informative political journalism that included some commentary or observation pertaining to the wider political scene.
- Turning to the issue of accuracy, the Council is satisfied that the media's reporting of Mr Batchelor’s rallies and subsequent complaints, together with publicly documented events such as protests and police involvement at rallies, generally supports the thrust of the sentence complained about. On balance the Council finds no reason to doubt that at times some people have experienced what they believe is “racist rhetoric” at the Stop Co-governance rallies. The Council finds no issues with fairness or balance in the story as a whole.
- Readers would have been better served if the writer had included specific examples of “racist rhetoric” in the story – such as those the NZ Herald included in its response - or if the sentence had read “with what has been widely criticised as racist rhetoric” or similar, to be clearer that claims of racism will often be disputed. But the Council is mindful that the story was about a political rally not “racist rhetoric.”
- The Council also acknowledges that it is good practice in political coverage to set the scene of an electorate or country or the times in general, to benefit a reader’s better understanding of the issues on the surface and underlying.
- In this example, the story was about the Labour Party’s Maori campaign launch, a so called “fight for its life” and the backdrop to this was the highly contentious issue of co-governance and the supporters and detractors on either side.
- As the NZ Herald states, the reporter was putting the issues into context and the sentence needs to be understood in that context. The Council agrees with the NZ Herald that in writing the sentence “This comes amid anti-co governance rallies across the country with at times clear racist rhetoric towards Māori” the reporter summarised the widely held belief of many critics who attended meetings or were familiar with Mr Batchelor’s area of interest.
- The Council notes that the preceding paragraphs detail protests at the launch by members associated with a rival party. They effectively derailed the visit which ended up being “rushed and quite short.” There was “no violence but a sinister element” and claims from a busker that he was offered money to abuse Mr Hipkins as he walked by.
- The Council believes that these are valid observations that deserve to be reported and the same can be said for the sentence at the heart of this complaint. These are not examples of a reporter’s opinion rather they are observations that paint a picture of the political backdrop in the weeks preceding the general election of 2023. Further, the Council believes that in the right context details such as these combine to present good examples of a type of reportage that serves readers well.
- Decision: The complaint is not upheld.
Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Hank Schouten, Rosemary Barraclough, Tim Watkin, Jonathan Mackenzie, Ben France-Hudson, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, Alison Thom, Richard Pamatatau.
Council member Scott Inglis declared a conflict of interest and withdrew from the discussion.