Case Number: 2945

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2020

Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Nelson Mail

Ruling Categories: Accuracy


Peter Ross complained about an article published in the Nelson Mail on August 22, 2020 memorialising a general practitioner who took his own life in Takaka in 1936.

The story was a tribute to Dr Louis Potaka, reportedly New Zealand’s fifth Maori medical graduate, who served as doctor on Rear Admiral Richard Byrd’s second Antarctic Expedition in 1934-35. After returning to Nelson he served briefly as a locum before setting up his own practice up the road in Takaka. This was the subject of a complaint to the Medical Council which ruled that he must close his practice or face deregistration. Months later Dr Potaka committed suicide.He was 36 years old. His funeral was reportedly attended by nearly everyone in Takaka.

Mr Ross complained that there was lack of evidence to support the article’s claim that Dr Potaka had been subjected to institutional racism and that the article conferred an unjustified hero status on him.

In response Stuff Nelson editor Victoria Guild said the article was run in theNelson Mail’s opinion column. The opinion tag was later added to the same article run by Stuff, although the item was clearly the writer’s opinion.

The writer’s comments about Dr Potaka were based on his research and interviews with elderly Golden Bay residents who remembered the doctor and recalled stories about him.

The Media Council notes that Stuff erred in not marking the article as opinion from the start, but corrected that promptly. In any case the comments in the article that Mr Ross complained about were all prefaced with remarks that made it clear the author was expressing an opinion.

These opinions were supported by information gathered in interviews with local people who knew about Dr Potaka. It is not shown there was no factual basis for the opinion expressed.Ascribing Dr Potaka’s misfortunes to racism may be contested, but readers knew this was an opinion piece with similarities to an obituary.

There was no substantive argument to support a complaint that this article breached Media Council principles. There are no grounds for complaint.

Finding: Insufficient Grounds to Proceed.