Case Number: 2886

Council Meeting: MARCH 2020

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy


The Article

On January 26, 2020 Stuff published an article titled Got my heart racing: Central New Zealand rocked by late night 5.4 magnitude quake.The article describes an earthquake centered on the Kapiti Coast and felt in the upper South Island through to the central North Island.It provides detail from GeoNet about the earthquake and includes quotes from people who experienced it.

The Complaint

Pascal Janse van Vuuren complains that the URL web link for the article reads “reports-of-5.4-magnitude-earthquake-throughout-Aotearoa”.He argues that using “Aotearoa’ breaches the Media Council’s principle of accuracy.He states that the legal name of our country is New Zealand and this is what international visitors, family and friends from overseas know our country as.Using ‘Aotearoa’ is a colloquialism and not an accurate name.By using this name, the publication is placing people at risk or causing needless panic because it is discussing the serious issue of an earthquake and could confuse people.

He goes on to argue that Aotearoa is not the original, te reo Māori name for New Zealand but was instead popularized by European writers based on Kupe’s discovery of this country.He states that the more accurate Māori name is Niu Tireni (the transliteration of New Zealand) as this is captured in the nation’s founding documents.

He also goes to state that a ‘pidgin approach’ and ‘sprinkling te reo Māori’ in the occasional headline or using it for greetings is disrespectful.He concludes by stating that if Aotearoa is to be widely used it should be formally agreed to through a process such as the flag referendum.

The Response

Patrick Crewdson responds for Stuff.He argues that Stuff is guided by its editorial style in the selection of its words and can use the name Aotearoa if they consider it appropriate. He argues that Aotearoa is widely used as a name for New Zealand and Niu Tireni (as a direct translation) is less widely used. The choices they make in style represent common language usage and will create no barriers to understanding for readers.

Crewdson goes on to state that Stuff (as the country’s largest website) has a role to play in the normalization and revitalization of te reo Māori and rejects the complainant’s views that their use of Māori words is ‘a sop’ showing only a ‘hint’ of respect.

Crewdson concludes by stating there is no inaccuracy in Stuff’s use of Aotearoa and dismisses the accusation that its use ‘may put people at risk or cause needless panic’.

The Discussion

Principle 1 states that publications should be bound at all times by accuracy and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers.The use of Aotearoa in a web link does not meet the bar for inaccuracy.The Media Council agrees with Stuff in that Aotearoa is in wide use and readers will not be confused by its use. The fact is, it is commonly used by New Zealanders as a synonym for New Zealand. It follows that whatever the etymological history of the words its use to describe New Zealand is legitimate New Zealand parlance.Further, Aotearoa and New Zealand are used interchangeably in the article - indeed the article’s title uses New Zealand - so again we can not see how this could mislead the reader or generate panic.

Language use is at the discretion of the editor and it is obvious that Stuff has thoughtfully considered its use of te reo Māori.

The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten Marie Shroff and Pravina Singh.

Tim Watkin stood down to maintain the public member majority.


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