PAUL VERCOE AGAINST THE DOMINION POST AND STUFF

Case Number: 3038

Council Meeting: APRIL 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. The article which describes the building of the Great South Road and the invasion of the Waikato by colonial troops has not been shown to have been inaccurate, unfair, or unbalanced. The complaint is not upheld.

The Article

2. On 1 March 2021, Stuff, the publisher of The Dominion Post, published an article with the headlineOur Truth, Tā Mātou Pono: Great South Road a highway to hell and the big bank that helped pay for the war. The article initially follows the path of the Great South road as a way of describing events that occurred at the invasion of the Waikato by colonial troops. It focusses on the life and thoughts of a Tainui kaumatua, Taitimu Maipi, protesting about and seeking to remedy injustices done to Māori in the course of the building of the road and the subsequent invasion. It describes his family and their feelings about the invasion. It describes the actions of one of the founders of the Bank of New Zealand who was briefly the Minister of Defence and held that role for a short time during the invasion, and how money secured from the BNZ helped to fund conflicts during the New Zealand Land Wars.

3. Part of the article refers to the view of historian, Vincent O’Malley, about the invasion of Waikato and the importance of the road when that happened. He is quoted as describing the invasion of the Waikato as the defining conflict of New Zealand, and how its consequences are still here today, and that section ends with some reflections by him. Associate Professor Tom Roa also gives his comments on the occupation of Waikato, which he sees to have been a disaster for his people. He believes in teaching New Zealand’s real history to school children.

The Complaint

4. Mr Vercoe considers The Dominion Post did not explain why the road was built, which was a serious and major omission. It is alleged that the article was biased, with an emphasis on land confiscation, and that it contained inaccurate and emotive phrases. It is said that the article does not feel balanced and there is no fair voice to the reasons for the fighting.

5. Mr Vercoe goes on to state that “the reason for the fighting was to try to manage a serious situation which resulted in the Crown passing the Suppression of Rebellion Act 1863”.The preamble of the Act is quoted, stating that the reason for the suppression of “the rebellion” was because of the subversion of the authority of Her Majesty’s government by “certain aboriginal tribes of this colony” manifesting itself in “open rebellion”.

6. A public apology from Stuff is sought, and it is stated that Stuff needs to publish the background for the need to pass the Suppression of Rebellion Act. He asserts that it was “their decision” (the decision of Māori) to opt to give up their land rather than give up their rebellion.

The Response

7. Stuff in its detailed response rejects the vague and unquantified notion that Stuff is biased, and points to an earlier refusal by the Media Council to uphold a complaint from Mr Vercoe concerning its apology to Māori. Stuff is working to ameliorate historical bias in New Zealand.

8. It is also denied that the quoted historians are in any way biased, and their significant qualifications are referred to. It is pointed out that the whole history of the New Zealand Wars and the invasion of the Waikato are long running issues, and how there has been a need for a fresh take on well traversed history.

9. An assertion by Mr Vercoe that Stuff has an apparent policy to undermine the government, which “must surely border on subversion against the state” is rejected as “frankly, ludicrous”. Stuff had provided robust factual journalism and Mr Vercoe misunderstands the role of the independent media.

The Decision

10. We first deal with an aside by Mr Vercoe in his complaint material, which echoes an unsuccessful part of an earlier complaint he made about a Stuff article, which had apologised to Māori. He has stated, referring to a Māori reporter recently appointed by Stuff to the Press Gallery, “It is hard to grasp that the Council will not censor (sic) Stuff for a policy involving their parliamentary press gallery reporter having a focus on Maori Issues.”

11. It is not the role of the Media Council to tell media organisations how to employ and arrange their staff. The ethnic make-up of reporting teams if for a publisher to decide. Moreover, Mr Vercoe appears to be operating under the misapprehension that this reporter is the only Stuff reporter in the gallery, whereas Stuff has five political reporters and he is only one of the team.

12. On the substance of this complaint supporting the invasion of the Waikato, we accept a number of the points made by Stuff. he history of the New Zealand Wars and the invasion of the Waikato are undoubtedly long running issues. Stuff is entitled to present a particular perspective.

13. Importantly, Mr Vercoe is not aware of or ignores a far more modern Act of Parliament than the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 which deals expressly with the invasion. The Act is the Waikato Raupatu Claims Settlement Act 1995, which records in its preamble that it is an Act:

“to record the apology given by the Crown to Waikato in the deed of settlement signed on 22 May 1995 by both representatives of the Crown and representatives of Waikato, being an apology by the Crown for, among other things, sending its forces across the Mangatāwhiri River in July 1863, unfairly labelling Waikato as rebels, and subsequently confiscating their land.”

14. At ss 4 – 6 of this Act, an apology is given by the Crown in Māori and English, where it acknowledges that its representative and “advisors acted unjustly in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi in its dealings with Kiingitanga and Waikato”. The Crown expresses its profound regret and apologises unreservedly for the loss of lives because of the hostilities arising from its invasion, and the devastation of property and the social life that resulted.

15. It is acknowledged by the Crown that the subsequent confiscation of land and resources under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 was wrongful, and it caused Waikato for the present time to suffer feelings in relation to their lost land akin to those of orphans, and had a crippling impact on the welfare, economy, and development of Waikato.

16. In the light of this statement and acknowledgement, which was affirmed by Queen Elizabeth II, it cannot be said that the article is inaccurate. t must be seen as confirmation at the highest level possible, of the wrong done to Māori by the invasion, carried out in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. The citing by Mr Vercoe of a much earlier statute, which focusses on the now discredited allegations of rebellion as a justified cause of the invasion, cannot be seen as in any way showing that the article was inaccurate. No evidence is put forward to show that the views of the historians quoted are wrong. t cannot be said therefore that any inaccuracy in the article has been shown.

17. Further, the claim of the lack of balance must fail immediately, as the article expresses the accepted wisdom of New Zealand historians. Mr Vercoe puts forward no modern expert perspectives, and he appears to rely solely on his own perceptions of history and the 1863 statute.

Result

18. The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair) Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

Rosemary Barraclough stood down to maintain a public member majority.


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